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Harrah's Draws Criticism; Employee Appearance
 Standards Go "Overboard"
By Scott Mayerowitz, The Providence Journal, R.I.
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News

July 13, 2004 - PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- What might be in store for people looking to work at the proposed Harrah's West Warwick casino?

If the hiring is anything like what Harrah's has done at some of its facilities, cocktail waitresses would have to "audition" for their jobs in swimsuits.

Once hired, they would be required to wear makeup, mascara, lipstick, heels, and have their hair styled a particular way.

If they got pregnant, they would have six months after giving birth to fit back into their pre-pregnancy uniforms.

It's too early to say what Harrah's might require if the Rhode Island casino ever becomes a reality. But in recent years the Las Vegas company has instituted a number of rules for its workers across the country, dictating everything from the colors of lipstick and nail polish to the size of earrings.

"It's really nothing more than human resource appearance guidelines similar to what you'd find at any major company in America," said Jan L. Jones, Harrah's senior vice president for communications and government relations. "Our customers have said that when they go to a casino, they're looking for a night out and they want people to be well-groomed and have standardized appearances."

One set of procedures required workers in contact with customers to be photographed at their "personal best" and maintain that look. Deviation from the portraits were grounds for discipline or denial of raises.

That "personal best" policy, introduced in 2000, has not been used for "at least two years," according to company spokesman Gary Thompson. Harrah's executives said they could not provide copies of the policy. Other policies are still in effect.

"It sounds a little outdated and a little cartoonish," Josh Miller, owner of Trinity Brewhouse and the Hot Club, both in Providence, said of Harrah's rules. "It wouldn't be something that I would ask an employee to do. I find it offensive and think most of the people that I would ask to work for me would find it offensive."

Dale J. Venturini, president and CEO of the Rhode Island Hospitality and Tourism Association, a frequent Harrah's critic, says some of the company's appearance standards go "overboard."

"I'm a little shocked that someone would exploit their employees in such a manner, especially women," Venturini said. "The ability to perform a job well, in the hospitality industry, should be based on professionalism and experience, not how you look in a bathing suit."

Harrah's is serious about appearances.

To help employees fit the Harrah's look, image consultants are hired, according to Kathy Wade-Yacoubian, Harrah's vice president of property, products and services. When a new casino opens, the consultants visit the facility and help workers find cheap ways to improve their hair and makeup.

In 2000, the consultants helped workers at Harrah's St. Louis casino fill out "personal image workbooks." The employees were also given $50 in gift certificates for makeup and salon services, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

At Harrah's North Kansas City Casino and Hotel, workers in 2000 were prohibited from wearing nose rings and tongue studs, and female employees were required to wear makeup and have styled hair. Women there were given six months after having a baby to return to their pre-pregnancy shape.

Prior to 2000, they had only two months, company spokesman Thompson told the Kansas City Star at the time.

Women's nail polish can only be red, clear, burgundy, pink or beige, according to the company's 2004 employee handbook. Nail art is prohibited.

Cocktail waitresses at Harrah's Atlantic City -- as of June 2001 -- were required to wear their hair down. Ponytails, braids and buns were prohibited. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that after talking with gambler focus groups, the company decided to require heels of all waitresses.

But just getting in the door requires a certain look.

When Harrah's New Orleans casino opened in 1999, women who wanted to be cocktail waitresses needed to "audition" wearing a one-piece French-cut swimsuit, sheer stocking and pumps with medium heels, according to the New Orleans Times-Picayune. Men needed to wear black "form-fitting" short-sleeve crewnecks, with matching pants and shoes.

Jones points out that Harrah's was just a minority owner, at the time, of the New Orleans casino.

"The local partners were running all the hiring," Jones said. "None of the employees actually worked for Harrah's."

Wade-Yacoubian said she has never heard of swimsuits being required for a Harrah's interview and that would never happen in Rhode Island.

Harrah's does have an appearance policy for men, whose hair cannot extend below the shirt collar, fingernails need to be clean and neatly trimmed and no makeup is permitted.

Harrah's was sued over its appearance policy in a highly publicized case involving a long-time Reno bartender who refused to wear makeup.

Darlene Jespersen spent 21 years working at Harrah's Reno, including 18 as a bartender. When the "personal best" program was instituted in Reno in 2000, it included a requirement that females wear makeup while males were forbidden to wear makeup. Jespersen refused to wear makeup, was transferred out of her bartender job and a month later was fired.

She then took the matter to court.

Harrah's offered Jespersen her job back, without requiring her to follow the policy. Jespersen declined, saying the policy was a larger issue.

Last month, the Nevada Supreme Court upheld a lower court's ruling in favor of Harrah's. As part of its ruling, the court noted that in Nevada companies can fire "at-will workers" for any reason.

Jespersen also filed a sex-discrimination case in federal court. That court also sided with Harrah's and an appeal is now pending in the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Jones, Harrah's vice president, blames the lawsuit for a lot of the focus on the company's appearance standards.

"It was distorted a lot in the press because of Darlene Jespersen, which was one employee . . . who didn't want to conform," Jones said.

"Everybody's ruled in our favor in that case. We will never lose this suit. Appearance standards are common practice in every major business in America."

Many Rhode Island businesses have rules regulating employees' appearances.

Robert I. Burke, owner of Pot Au Feu and Federal Reserve restaurants in Providence and frequent casino critic, said he requires his female servers to wear a skirt. However, he said it needs to be knee-length or longer.

"The reasons for that are obvious: servers bending over a table, wearing a short skirt, are placed in a compromising position in terms of their dignity," Burke said.

Workers have to put up with a lot, Burke said, but a job is "even worse if the work you are doing is demeaning or if someone is . . . looking at you as part of the decor."

Burke said Harrah's policy shows that the company does not care about the community from which it draws its casino employees.

"It's all about Harrah's and if that means that Harrah's can make more money by having employees who demean themselves, then that is perfectly fine; in fact it's corporate policy," he said. "We all moved on from this three decades ago. It's just another way that Harrah's is showing that they're not the kind of modern, forward-thinking job that Rhode Island should be looking for. They're very regressive. They're dragging their knuckles on the ground. They're Neanderthals."

The local chapter of the Hotel and Restaurant Employees International Union has been silent on the policy. The union has been one of Harrah's biggest supporters, flying in casino workers to testify before the General Assembly on how great it is to work for Harrah's. But when asked about Harrah's policy toward workers' appearances last week, Alisa B. Gallo, the union's lobbyist, refused to comment.

Other casinos are not as strict.

In Connecticut, Foxwoods Resort Casino has a "standards of appearance" policy that tries to "project an image of casual elegance," according to spokesman Bruce MacDonald.

The policy, like Harrah's, specifies everything from earring size to rules about nail polish. However, unlike Harrah's, it does not dictate acceptable nail polish colors. It just prohibits "extreme" colors.

At neighboring Mohegan Sun, spokesman Saverio Mancini said the casino requires its employees to wear a uniform, name tag and "just to look presentable." Mohegan Sun does not require any hair styling or specific nail or lipstick color, he said.

Lincoln Park spokesman Michael F. Trainor said his facility has no code regarding hairstyle or makeup but does prohibit certain types of piercings, such are nose rings.

Cathy Rayner, president of the union that represents most workers at Newport Grand, said the facility requires its workers to be "neat in appearance, not overly saturated with perfume or aftershave."

The union's contract also allows employees to have "comfortable footwear, which is neat in appearance." Sneakers are permitted.

There are no regulations about hair or makeup, Rayner said.

"I have long hair. I can wear it up or down. There's no problem with that," Rayner said. "I think it is extremely insulting to any person to be told that they have to wear makeup. . . What you put on your face in no way enhances your job performance."

-----To see more of the The Providence Journal, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.projo.com.

(c) 2004, The Providence Journal, R.I. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News. For information on republishing this content, contact us at (800) 661-2511 (U.S.), (213) 237-4914 (worldwide), fax (213) 237-6515, or e-mail reprints@krtinfo.com. HET,

 
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