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Roseville location plans to fight one lawsuit, calling it 'self-serving'
The Detroit News
June 3, 2010
Roseville -- Hooters of America Inc. announced Wednesday it would fight a weight discrimination lawsuit by a former server, only to face a second suit by another ex-employee at the same Macomb County restaurant.
Leanne Convery, 23, of Harrison Township, filed a suit Wednesday in Macomb County Circuit Court saying she was placed on "weight probation," then fired when she did not comply.
This is the second suit against the Hooters on Gratiot in the past two weeks. Both Convery and Cassandra Smith are claiming their civil rights were violated and are each seeking $25,000 in damages.
These are the first weight discrimination cases filed against the restaurant chain, Hooters officials said. That's in part because Michigan is the only state with a law explicitly banning employer discrimination based on weight.
"In other states, Hooters would have a better shot of defeating this claim," said attorney Mark Bernstein, whose Farmington Hills firm is representing both women.
Smith filed a lawsuit May 24, saying her managers told her to improve her "uniform fit" and offered her a gym membership. Smith, 20, of Roseville, is 5 feet 8 inches and weighs 132 ½ pounds. In the lawsuit, she says she actually lost about 12 pounds since she was recruited two years ago. She has since left her job.
On Wednesday, representatives from the chain's Atlanta headquarters were at the Roseville restaurant telling reporters that the company had no intention of settling Smith's case. Mike McNeil, vice president of marketing, called the suit "baseless," "self-serving" and without merit since Smith admitted she was not asked to "lose weight," nor was any disciplinary action taken.
He added, however, that Hooters girls are responsible for maintaining their "image," like other entertainers. The chain, known for dressing servers in plunging white tank tops and orange mini-shorts, asks servers to sign a "pledge" upon hiring to maintain and improve their image while working there, employees said.
According to the second suit, Convery was told July 6, 2009, that she had 30 days to make her extra-small uniform fit more properly or she would be terminated. Convery said in a phone interview she had worked at the Roseville location for 5 1/2 years and that her weight had fluctuated after she had a baby. After her July evaluation last year, she crash dieted, took diet pills -- a common practice among servers at the restaurant, she said -- and ran on treadmills until nearly passing out.
She lost 15 pounds, but was told on Aug. 10 she showed "no improvement" and could no longer work there, the suit states. At the time, Convery was 4 foot 11 inches and weighed 115 pounds.
"It was a shock to me," said Convery, an assistant manager at a perfume shop. "Even though the measure I went to wasn't right, I still felt I looked good."
Convery said she first heard the term "weight probation" when the restaurant's general manager, Rob Rice, explained why she was being terminated.
On Wednesday, Rice disputed Convery's account of her termination, and said he never used that term. Asked why she was let go, Rice said he could not recall.
McNeil said there was no "weight probation" at Hooters restaurants, and said he had never heard the term until Smith mentioned it in news reports.
In an affidavit provided to the Bernstein firm, 23-year-old Melissa Jacquiemain said she, too, had heard about "weight probation" as a bartender and server at the Roseville location until March 2010.
"After this, I would never let my daughter work at a Hooters," Jacquiemain, of St. Clair Shores, said in an interview.
Michigan's Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act explicitly includes "weight" among the factors upon which employers cannot act.
Harold Core, a spokesman for the Michigan Department of Civil Rights, said weight discrimination cases have increased slightly during the past five years but remain rare.
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