Thursday, January 22, 2009

Benefits awarded to beaten Hooters waitress

By Clark Kauffman

A waitress was barred from working at the Hooters restaurant in Davenport after a violent physical attack left her bruised and unable to meet company standards for maintaining a "glamorous appearance."

The waitress alleges she was fired after taking time off to recover from the assault. Hooters officials say the waitress abandoned her job, but also say that the woman's bruised body made her temporarily ineligible to work as a "Hooters Girl."

An administrative law judge who presided over a recent public hearing dealing with 27-year-old Sara Dye's request for unemployment benefits ruled against the company and awarded benefits to Dye. Judge Teresa Hillary found that Dye's "inability to work due to bruises" did not amount to workplace misconduct.

According to testimony at the hearing, Dye was the victim of several incidents of domestic violence in 2008, the last of which occurred Sept. 3 after she left work for the day. Dye, who lives in Rock Island, Ill., was badly beaten and her assailant - unidentified at the hearing - cut off some of her hair.

The next day, Dye and her managers agreed that at least for the next few weeks she should not be working in the restaurant. General Manager Gina Sheedy testified that Dye's bruises would have been visible outside the Hooters uniform, which is known for being revealing.

"We told her it was probably not in her best interest to work for a while because of the state of her body," Sheedy testified.

Hillary asked Sheedy whether the restaurant would have agreed to a request from Dye to return to work immediately.

"No, probably not," Sheedy replied. "She probably would not be able to work because of her black eye and the bruises on her face. ... Our handbook states you have to have a glamorous appearance. It doesn't actually say, 'Bruises on your face are not allowed.' It does talk about the all-American cheerleader look."

Sheedy said Dye could now resume working at Hooters, assuming she maintained a glamorous appearance.

"And a glamorous appearance to you means you can't have bruises on your face or your body that show outside the uniform?" Hillary asked.

"Correct," Sheedy replied.

The restaurant's assistant manager, Michelle Duvall, testified that shortly after the attack, Dye talked to her about returning to work after a week of recovery time.

"She told me that she was very badly beaten, she (had been) unconscious, she was in the hospital," Duvall said. "She was like, 'I really want to work next week. ...' I said, 'You need to come in and speak to Gina and let her see your appearance.'"

Hillary asked Duvall what would happen if a waitress's hair had to be cut as a result of an injury from an accident.

Duvall said that according to the company handbook, a waitress's hair "needs to be styled as if you're going out on a big date on a Saturday night, as if you're preparing for a photo shoot."

Dye declined to comment on the case when contacted by a Des Moines Register reporter. She testified that Hooters was supportive of her in the wake of previous "personal problems." She said that when she called the restaurant in late September about returning to work, a co-worker informed her she had been fired.

The owner of the Davenport restaurant, Darren Taylor, said his company valued Dye as an employee and didn't fire her. He declined to comment on the company's standards for physical appearance.

"I won't go into all of the Hooters Girl requirements, because they're contained in about a 50-page book," he said. "But I don't know any restaurateur who would want somebody totally bruised up waiting on his customers."

Dye testified that she understood why she couldn't come to work in the immediate aftermath of the attack.

"My body appearance wasn't up to par," she said.

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