Former Chili's server says she wasn't promoted because she didn't dress in a 'gender appropriate' way

Meagan Hunter says she was denied a promotion because she didn’t dress in a “gender appropriate” way. (Photo: ACLU of Arizona)

A former server at Chili’s Grill & Bar says she wasn’t promoted because she didn’t dress “gender appropriate.”

For two years, Meagan Hunter, 35, waited tables at Chili’s in Phoenix, Ariz., until she applied for a promotion in May 2018. “I worked hard, I loved the company, and my co-workers were my family,” Hunter tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “I saw myself with a long-term career at Chili’s.” 

Hunter was interested in two different positions, bartender and manager, and in June, for the manager role, she interviewed wearing a buttoned-down shirt and slacks, a typical outfit for company managers. (Servers wear standard-issue Chili’s T-shirt and dark-blue jeans).

Hunter’s general manager later asked her to talk outside. “He told me the district operator said my clothes were baggy and I was inappropriately dressed for an interview,” Hunter tells Yahoo Lifestyle.

Seven weeks later, Hunter’s boss allegedly told her, “They want to offer you the job, but they’re really concerned about what you’re going to wear.” In a blog post published Wednesday by the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona, Hunter said her boss wanted her to look “gender appropriate.”

“I said, ‘Does that mean I should have my breasts hanging out to succeed in your company?’ and he backtracked and said, ‘No, not in those words,'” Hunter tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “I asked why I couldn’t wear an outfit like his, and he said, ‘That’s for boys.'”

A former Chili’s employee, Meagan Hunter, alleges that due to gender discrimination, she wasn’t promoted at work. (Photo: ACLU of Arizona)

Hunter finished her “terrible” shift that day and went home to reflect. “What I wear has nothing to do with my work ethic,” she tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “The next day, I quit.”

The ex-employee says her co-workers informed her that she wasn’t even considered for the bartending role because the general manager “didn’t want a gay girl behind the bar” because she wouldn’t attract the “right kind” of customers.

The ACLU and Hunter filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. “In order to bring a discrimination case against a company, you first file with the EEOC,” Steve Kilar, an ACLU spokesperson, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “Once we have a ‘Right to Sue’ letter, we can go ahead with a lawsuit.” 

Hunter found a new job waiting tables at a cafe called First Watch, but she’s taken a pay cut, and as a new employee, she has to prove her worth. “When all this happened with Chili’s, I was in the process of buying a home for me and my 9-year-old son,” Hunter tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “It’s been a difficult time.”

A Chili’s spokesperson tells Yahoo Lifestyle, “At Chili’s, we invite our Team Members and Guests to come as they are because our restaurants are a place where they can be themselves. Let us be clear — we do not tolerate any discriminatory behavior in our restaurants. That’s why we were alarmed by these allegations and why we knew we had to set the record straight on behalf of all of our ChiliHeads.

“Meagan Hunter was not denied a promotion at Chili’s, but instead she was identified as a high potential Team Member and offered the opportunity to be promoted into our Certified Shift Leader program to take the next step on her career journey,” said the spokesperson. “Feedback was given to her about our manager dress code guidelines, which apply to all managers regardless of gender identification or sexuality, but absolutely no mention was made of any need to conform to gender-specific clothing.

“We will not and do not tolerate discriminatory behavior at Chili’s. We stand committed to the tens of thousands of ChiliHeads from all walks of life who represent what we stand for each day. To all of our Guests, fans, former and current Team Members — we love you just as you are, and we intend to show that every single day.”

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