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Detroit Free Press
By Steve Neavling, Free Press Staff Writer
June 2, 2010
A second waitress at Hooters restaurant in Roseville filed a weight discrimination lawsuit today against the Atlanta-based chain about two hours after company executives sought to defend its image standard at a news conference.
The latest lawsuit in Macomb County Circuit Court says Hooters fired Leanne Convery for failing to lose sufficient weight in August 2009.
The suit comes less than two weeks after 20-year-old Cassie Smith filed suit against Hooters of America, claiming the restaurant placed her on weight probation.
Both are represented by the Sam Bernstein Law Firm in Farmington Hills and cite the Michigan Civil Rights Act, which bars employers from discrimination on the basis of religion, marital status, race, age, height and weight.
At 10:30 a.m. today, a Hooters executive, flanked by three Hooters waitresses, called the first lawsuit “baseless and self-serving” and said the restaurant chain has the right to uphold image standards because the waitresses are entertainers.
“It is our intention to win this battle,” Mike McNeil, president of marketing at Hooters, told reporters on a patio at the Roseville restaurant on Gratiot. “We are very proud of the Hooters’ girls’ image.”
McNeil insisted Smith was never told to lose weight but declined to say whether she, as she claims, was given a gym membership but said it’s not uncommon for waitresses to be given gym memberships and nutrition advice. He wouldn’t discuss the second lawsuit because he hadn’t yet seen it.
One by one, three Hooters waitresses from St. Louis, Atlanta and Roseville told reporters that they support the healthy, beautiful image of waitresses required by the company.
“We have become iconic and recognizable worldwide,” said Ericka Whitaker, a Hooters waitress in Atlanta and a former member of the Radio City Music Hall Rockettes. “Hooters is based on good food and beautiful girls.”
The waitresses said a healthy diet and regular workouts are important. “If I have to eat an apple instead of a candy bar, I will,” said Raechel Holtgrave, Miss Hooters International of 2009.
McNeil said Michigan is the only state in the country that bars discrimination based on image and weight. But, he said, those requirements don’t pertain to entertainers who need to uphold an image.
“We counsel girls and give them advice on nutrition and fitness,” he said.
New accusations against the Roseville restaurant by a third woman surfaced today in an affidavit provided by the Sam Bernstein Law Firm. Melissa Jacquemain, a 23-year-old former waitress at Hooters who quit in March, said “weight probation” was commonly threatened to encourage employees to lose weight and that managers stopped hiring women over the age of 30. She said she was scorned for eating chicken wings and drinking pop because of the sugar.
She further alleged that staff and customers were dealing drugs, including cocaine and painkillers.
When Jacquemain confronted management about it, she said they became hostile toward her.
She is considering filing a lawsuit.
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