A Hooters bikini contest that ended with accusations of cheating is at the center of the latest labor dispute at the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).
NLRB Administrative Law Judge William Nelson Cates sided with Hooters waitress Alexis Hanson earlier this month, who argued that the company fired her because she complained the April 2013 bikini contest was "rigged."
Hanson and several other Hooters employees at a franchise location near Los Angeles expressed concerns about the bikini contest, which came with $300 in prize money, because the winner, Marketing Director Pamela Nobles, organized the contest and found spots for her best friend Krystle Lina and her boyfriend on the judges panel.
Hooters bartender Chanelle Panitch also complained about the bikini contest being rigged. Afterward, she confronted Nobles with the accusations and allegedly swore at her. She too was soon fired, but the courts dismissed her case.
Hanson maintained that she did not curse at Panitch, but acknowledged she expressed her frustrations to the company's regional director.
“The evidence indicates the company knew it could rid itself of Panitch and simply sought to lump Hanson’s discharge in the mix and rid itself of both complaining employees,” Cates wrote. “I find it clear Hanson’s discharge was motivated by her protected concerted activity.”
Cates ruled on May 19 that the firing violated Hanson's labor rights and ordered Hooters to rehire her and give her back pay for the time she missed.
The judge also struck down several rules in Hooters's employee handbook, including a rule that prohibited employees from disrespecting guests, such as by discussing tips with them.
Hooters can appeal the decision to the NLRB's headquarters in Washington, D.C.