Obiter Dicta

Foundation For Firing?


Is it possible to pour a good drink without wearing three layers of makeup? A Nevada woman believes it is, especially when you have more than 20 years of bartending experience under your belt.

Darlene Jespersen worked as a bartender at a Harrah’s casino in Reno. And, by all indications, she was doing a fine job, sans makeup. But customer feedback about employees’ appearances led Harrah’s to implement an appearance standards policy in April 2000.

The policy, called Personal Best, required that all female drink servers gussy up with three layers of makeup while on the job, including foundation or blush, mascara and lipstick.

Jespersen was fired in 2001 for violating the policy, and she sued for sex discrimination. She lost and took her case to the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. A three-judge panel upheld the lower court’s ruling in December 2004. ]Jespersen’s en banc appeal was heard in June. At press time, the court had not yet issued a ruling.

Harrah’s spokesman David Strow says via e-mail that the goal of the company’s appearance standards “is to ensure that all Harrah’s employees have a neat, professional and well-groomed appearance.”

Strow says also that the company offered Jespersen her job back before phasing out Personal Best.

“In recognition of her good work history,” Strow writes, “Harrah’s offered to reinstate Ms. Jespersen in her previous position, with an exemption from the makeup policy. Ms. Jespersen refused our offer and chose instead to pursue this lawsuit.”

Street Sizzle

Skateboarder Feels the Heat After Spill, Becomes Billboard for Utility Company

When it’s summer in the city, it seems like you just can’t escape the heat. Everything becomes hot to the touch, from sidewalks to steering wheels. But that doesn’t explain how a manhole cover collected enough heat to become a virtual branding iron.

A skateboarding accident in Manhattan in August 2004 caused twenty-something Elizabeth Wallenberg to fall onto a manhole cover owned by Consolidated Edison. The uninsulated cover, heated by steam from pipes below, was so hot that it seared a partial imprint of the Con Ed logo on her lower back. She was treated for the burns at a hospital emergency room.

Wallenberg, a former Brooklyn resident who now lives in Portland, Ore., filed a lawsuit in Manhattan State Supreme Court against Consolidated Edison in July. She seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages because of Con Ed’s “reprehensible and egregious failure and refusal … to protect the public from this manifestly clear and present danger,” according to court papers.

Her attorney, Ronald Berman, says Con Ed knew it had a dangerous situation but failed to act.

“This was a problem throughout the city,” Berman says. “They did not get around to correcting it until Elizabeth’s accident. They had the wherewithal to take care of the problem beforehand; they just did not do it.”

A Con Ed representative declined to comment.

Berman says that Con Ed did not offer to compensate Wallenberg for her injuries, which he says include permanent scars.


Written by Brian Sullivan; Stories by San Francisco Chronicle, Boston.com; Research by Wendell LaGrand.


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