Waitress says bare face led to firing
By Michael Stetz (external - login to view) Union-Tribune Columnist
2:00 a.m. May 20, 2009
"I always thought I looked silly wearing makeup," said Shenoa Vild, 27, of North Park. - BRUCE K. HUFF / Union-Tribune
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Shenoa Vild hates to wear makeup. Face goop is simply not for her. She happens to think she has a naturally healthy, vibrant complexion. After meeting her, I have to agree.
But Vild, a waitress, says her former boss had an entirely different opinion.
He wanted Vild to wear makeup.
So, she says, she got canned.
Vild had worked at Trophy's in Mission Valley for five years without wearing makeup. Apparently, for all that time, it didn't matter.
But the restaurant was sold earlier this year, and she says the new management wanted the women to doll up. Vild says she got the ax in late April when she wouldn't.
Employers have the right to do this. A few years ago, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that it is not discrimination for employers to make women wear makeup. (Who are these judges? Maybelline stockholders?)
But just because it's legal doesn't make it right.
Mark Oliver, the new owner, said he couldn't go into details as to what happened with Vild. Oliver did say she was the only employee who was unable to deal with the transition.
Trophy's, like the other restaurants in the small chain, was a sports bar. Oliver is making it more upscale.
“Shenoa could still be here if she wanted,” said Oliver, who used to be a part owner of George's at the Cove in La Jolla. “I had no problem with anybody else. If she would have made the same accommodations that the new ownership was asking, she'd still be here.”
If Vild were a terrible waitress who gave customers a hard time or got orders wrong or kept dropping plates, I'd say fire away. But a former co-worker and a former boss told me she was a good, popular waitress.
(Full disclosure: Vild provided the names and numbers.)
Vild's former boss, Nicole Alex, said Vild was aces. She even trained new workers.
Alex left the restaurant, too, but she holds no grudge. Oliver was fair about her leaving, she said.
I asked Alex if customers ever complained about Vild's appearance.
Still, “she's facing a real uphill battle,” said Peter Zschiesche, executive director of the Employee Rights Center in San Diego. Employers have wide latitude on hiring and firing, particularly when it comes to at-will, or nonunion, employees.
One might fault Vild for refusing to budge on the issue, but I give her credit for not caving. It's not the same as, say, putting on a uniform. You're applying something to your skin. And if you overdo it – Tammy Faye, anyone? – you could face ridicule, not praise.
“I always thought I looked silly wearing makeup,” Vild, a 27-year-old North Park resident, told me. “And I don't think I need it.”
It's not as if Vild isn't interested in her appearance or is a complete rebel. When the new management instituted a dress code of nice jeans and pressed white shirts, Vild said she had no problems conforming.
The Trophy's waitresses used to wear gym shorts and blouses.
Word is the management didn't like Vild's beach-girl look. She bleaches her hair blond. Funny, since we, um, live in a beach town. And funny, since when I went in the restaurant recently to check out the place, I saw a surfboard bolted on the wall.
My bet: That surfboard is going to be following Vild out the door.
While I was at the restaurant, I decided to have lunch. Maybe my powers of observations are lame, but I couldn't tell if my waitress was wearing any makeup.
She was very pleasant and she didn't drop my club sandwich into my lap. That's about all I care about. She told me the place is undergoing remodeling. She's only been there a couple of weeks.
Look, I have no problem with the establishment going for a makeover and Oliver putting his own stamp on the joint. You buy a place of business, you run it as you see fit. It's your Benjamins.
But Vild makes good points about how makeup can be a pain and how it's not necessarily for her. It costs money and it takes time to put on. For the waiters, it's a different story. All they have to do is be clean-shaven.
Too bad the law doesn't support people like Vild.
Times are tough enough. If Vild did get the heave-ho for this, well, I'm not handing out any trophies.
P.S. Just days ago, Vild landed a job tending bar. No makeup required.
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