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$70 million Lawsuit Against the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa in Atlantic City
 Will Test How Far an Employer Can Go in Promoting Image Standards

By Suzette Parmley, The Philadelphia Inquirer
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News

Feb. 1, 2006 - In a case that tests how far an employer can go in promoting an image and appearance standard, two former "Borgata Babes" cocktail servers filed a lawsuit this week against the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa in Atlantic City.

The suit, filed Monday in Atlantic County Superior Court by Renee Gaud, 36, and Trisha Hart, 28, states the Borgata fostered "a sexual and gender-hostile environment and sex discrimination." The women are seeking $70 million in damages.

The Borgata last February implemented a weigh-in policy that prohibits cocktail servers and bartenders from gaining more than 7 percent of their body weight, or face suspension and eventually termination.

A man who said the policy dissuaded him from seeking a job as a Borgata bartender sued last year, and the union that represents many workers at the casino wants an arbitrator to overturn the rule.

Gaud and Hart had worked as part of a group of shapely cocktail servers known as Borgata Babes. The 2 1/2-year-old Borgata has heavily marketed the Borgata Babes, who have their own calendar and are showcased at major events sponsored by the casino.

"The case is all about the Borgata's attempt to objectify women in a manner that is not only demeaning, but also unlawful," attorney Jeff Carton said yesterday. Carton, of Meiselman, Denlea, Packman, Carton & Eberz P.C., in White Plains, N.Y., is representing the plaintiffs. "When an arbitrary weight-gain policy that has nothing to do with their competence to do their job is imposed, there's something wrong with that policy."

Top management of the Borgata has consistently defended the practice, calling the cocktail servers the casino's "ambassadors" and a key part of its entertainment.

"As an employer of choice, Borgata stands behind its employment policies," read a company statement from the Borgata yesterday.

Larry Mullin, president and chief operating officer of the $1.1 billion Las Vegas-style mega-casino, added: "We are fair and have very good hiring procedures here."

In a short amount of time, the Borgata has become the biggest draw of Atlantic City's 12 casinos.

It had gambling revenue of $704.4 million in 2005.

Gaud and Hart had filed a similar sex-discrimination complaint last April with the New Jersey Division of Civil Rights, but subsequently withdrew it in favor of pursuing their case through the court system.

They were fired by the Borgata by the end of last year.

In the 23-page complaint filed this week, Gaud and Hart, who began working at the Borgata when it opened in July 2003, allege they had signed consent forms promising to keep a "clean smile, an hourglass figure and be height- and weight-appropriate" when they were hired.

They said they each told the Borgata about having a medical condition that made maintaining a consistent body weight difficult, and their concerns were ignored.

James McNally, of Brigantine, N.J., sued the Borgata last year saying the weight policy discouraged him from applying for a job as a bartender.

That case begins hearings later this month in Ocean County Superior Court.

Bob McDevitt, president of Local 54, which represents 15,000 casino workers in Atlantic City, including cocktail servers, cooks and bartenders, filed a grievance with the National Labor Relations Board over the weigh-in policy, saying the Borgata unilaterally instituted it without bargaining with the union. He said he hoped to have the case heard by an arbitrator by this summer.

"It's a form of age discrimination and sets us back 25 years," McDevitt said. "I remember doing this stuff back at the beginning of gaming. They're turning women back into objects again."

The suit filed by Gaud and Hart names Las Vegas-based Boyd Gaming Corp. and MGM Mirage, which co-own the casino, as defendants.

Boyd is the casino operator. Boyd's chief executive officer and chairman, William S. Boyd, is also named as a defendant.

Stephen Schrier, a partner at Obermayer, Rebmann, Maxwell & Hippel, in Cherry Hill, with an expertise in gaming and employment law, said the sex-discrimination lawsuit by Gaud and Hart would test how far an employer could go in promoting a brand.

"The significance is that any company that has a brand, and uses its employees to be a part of that branding, has to really think about the impact that a decision in this case could mean," Schrier said. "Certainly, the outcome of the case would have implications beyond the casino industry."

Contact staff writer Suzette Parmley at 215-854-2594 or sparmley@phillynews.com.

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Copyright (c) 2006, The Philadelphia Inquirer

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