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'Bikini Baristas' Too Hot for Wash. Town?

By Aditi Mukherji, JD | Last updated on

"Bikini barista" stands are popping up -- and popping out -- all over Washington state. And legal trouble is brewing.

Police in Everett, north of Seattle, say the service at one espresso stand was so piping hot that it violated the city's adult cabaret law and constituted lewd conduct. Three "bikini baristas" at the Hillbilly Hotties coffee stand were arrested for reportedly "exposing body parts and behaving inappropriately."

For risqué coffee stand owners, the incident serves as a reminder to leave the steaming to the beverages and to discipline employees -- and not in a "Secretary" kind of way. If not, you could "expose" yourself to liability.

Potential Liability for Lewd Conduct

A number of jurisdictions criminalize indecent clothing in public to thwart indecent (northern and southern) exposure. Indecent exposure laws vary widely depending on where you are.

But in this case, the baristas were slapped with lewd conduct charges. In Washington state, it's against the law to intentionally expose or touch yourself in a lewd manner in public.

Local laws in Everett outline very specific (and hilariously descriptive) rules for adult businesses about the exposure of body parts -- including "the female breast below the top of the areola, vulva," or male genitals "in a discernibly turgid state"(!!!). The laws also specify acceptable behavior.

If the Hillbilly Hotties were simply taking orders to behave inappropriately and dress too scantily, then their boss may be liable for their (non-chai) spicy conduct.

Case in point: The owner of Dreamgirls Expresso -- another coffee stand in Washington (also known as the "state of undress") -- faced 90 days in jail for instructing a barista to wear lingerie in 2011.

Boosting Your 'Bottom' Line

Sure, sex sells. But business owners may want to think twice before adding a naked twist to their business plans. Nudity can potentially reclassify your business as "sexually oriented" (as one nude maid service in Texas discovered in an unfortunate way), and may require new permits.

Failure to follow local laws can lead to costly fines. That's why it's crucial to specify in your employee handbook the standards for acceptable clothing and conduct. If only to cover your butt, you may want consult a local business attorney for extra help.

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