A group of 34 former employees of Twin Peaks, a restaurant chain featuring scantily clad waitstaff, filed a federal lawsuit Thursday alleging their uniforms and a system for grading their bodies amounted to sex discrimination and harassment.
The suit, filed in U.S. District Court for Northern District of Illinois, alleges Twin Peaks “preys on vulnerable young women” and is “run very much like a commercial sex ring.”
Central to the allegations are claims that managers at the start of every shift assess the tautness of female servers’ arms, stomachs, legs and backs and assign them “tone grades” that are used to determine who gets to serve the best sections of the restaurant. Those with low scores are told they are fat, and some have been threatened with termination unless they lose weight, the suit alleges.
The suit alleges staff must work in lingerie or bikinis during special costume weeks, and if they refuse, they don’t work.
The environment resulted in “rampant sexual harassment,” with other employees catcalling and customers able to touch and say things to the female staff without consequence, the suit alleges.
“Twin Peaks developed an image where, on the outside, it appears to be a place where young women happily work in revealing clothing while earning large tips,” the suits alleges. “In reality, young women across America are being demeaned, abused and exploited for the financial and sexual benefit of men.”
Dallas-based Twin Peaks, which operates lodge-themed bar-and-grill restaurants across the country, did not respond to a request for comment.
The suit comes two years after a small group of former employees of an Orland Park Twin Peaks filed charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, a required first step for pursuing discrimination claims. In the months that followed, dozens more former employees filed charges with the EEOC. The agency in December granted them the right to sue in court, said the plaintiffs’ attorney, Tamara Holder, who is based in Chicago.
The Orland Park restaurant closed last fall. Locally, Twin Peaks continues to operate restaurants in Warrenville and Oakbrook Terrace.
The so-called “breastaurant” chain had 84 locations and $335.8 million in sales last year, though its website currently lists 78 locations, said Kevin Schimpf, senior manager of industry research at restaurant data firm Technomic. After growing rapidly for several years, sales growth slowed in 2018, and last year sales were up 2.6%.
Most of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit worked at Twin Peaks restaurants in Oakbrook Terrace, Orland Park and Wheeling, which has also since closed. Four worked at Twin Peaks restaurants in the Texas cities of Plano, Round Rock and Frisco, and one in Orlando, Florida.
Holder says she is in the process of filing 18 separate complaints with the American Arbitration Association on behalf of former employees of restaurants in South Carolina, Georgia and Florida who couldn’t join the federal suit because they signed arbitration agreements upon being hired by a large Twin Peaks franchisee.
All but two of the plaintiffs in the federal suit are women. One of the men in the suit, who worked as a busser and janitor at the Orland Park location, alleges he was harassed for being gay and another, a manager in Texas, alleges he was fired for speaking out about how the women were treated.
Four African-American women, including a manager, allege they faced racial discrimination. One woman alleges pregnancy discrimination, claiming she was docked tone grades, and therefore given a less lucrative part of the restaurant to serve, during her pregnancy. Another alleges disability discrimination because of a medical condition that affects her appearance.
The suit alleges violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, as well as the Pregnancy Discrimination Act and the American with Disabilities Act. It seeks back pay and unspecified damages.
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