Las Vegas Sun

May 4, 2016

Last of cocktail waitresses settles suit with casino

The trial in federal court filed against a Las Vegas hotel-casino by six cocktail waitresses came to an end today when the last woman accepted a cash settlement rather than a jury verdict.

The U.S. District Court jury was sent home on the verge of deciding whether Anne VanHoose was discriminated against by her bosses at the Imperial Palace when pregnancy pushed her figure beyond the seams of her form-fitted costume.

The trial drew national attention as a case pitting the rights of pregnant women against the gambling industry's stand that sex appeal sells.

The settlement between VanHoose and the Imperial Palace was announced in court this morning, just hours before the jury was scheduled to begin deliberations following a three-day trial.

Five other cocktail waitresses in the lawsuit agreed to settle their cases last week as the trial unfolded before U.S. District Judge Lloyd George. All signed confidentiality agreements preventing them from disclosing how much money they received in exchange for settling their case against Imperial Palace.

"We're glad that this matter has been resolved to everyone's satisfaction," Ed Crispell, Imperial Palace general manager, said after the last settlement was announced. "The Imperial Palace family is the most important thing to us, and these disruptions were unnecessary."

Peter Laura, an attorney for the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which filed the action on behalf of the women, said the case was the "final nail in the coffin for the whole idea that you can take pregnant cocktail waitresses off the floor."

Laura said the four women represented by the EEOC received a total of $105,000. The settlements ranged from $17,500 to $30,000, he said. The federal agency is not bound by the confidentiality clause included in the settlement agreements, he said.

Two other women were represented by a private attorney.

Laura said the judge indicated late Friday he would likely rule the jury could not consider whether punitive damages were required against the company. VanHoose said she decided to accept the settlement when it appeared the company would not be forced to pay for allegedly discriminating against her and the other women.

The women alleged in their class-action lawsuit that the hotel-casino violated federal employment laws when it moved them from their lucrative positions on the casino floor because they were pregnant. The women were forced to take lower-paying jobs with fewer hours when they could no longer fit into their skimpy uniforms, according to the lawsuit.

Several of the women testified last week the policy caused them to have health and financial problems in the midst of their pregnancies. The cocktail waitresses were seeking lost wages and punitive damages against the Imperial Palace.

Three of the women agreed to a settlement on Thursday, the day after the trial started, and two more followed Friday. The five women -- Jennifer Jones, Glenda Austin, Lori Neville, Yolanda Brakens and Rebecca Soto -- accepted the cash settlements last week.

Attorneys for the Imperial Palace argued at trial the women signed agreements before being hired that regulated their appearance, including a provision that they would not gain more than six pounds. The hotel-casino's policy regarding pregnant cocktail waitresses was changed in 1997, three months after the first complaint was filed. Cocktail waitresses are now allowed to wear a modified uniform and keep their serving jobs if they become pregnant.

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