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Chili's worker says she was denied promotion because she didn't match 'what a woman should look like'

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 1/18/2019 Chris Coppola
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A former server at a Chili's Grill & Bar restaurant in Phoenix claims she was denied a promotion last year because she did not dress "gender appropriate.'' 

The American Civil Liberties Union, which has filed a discrimination complaint with the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission on behalf of Meagan Hunter, posted an account of the incident on its website. Hunter also posted a separate, first-person account of her experience on the site.

 "I didn't look the part, so I was forced to quit,'' she wrote.

The ACLU says Hunter was invited to apply for a management training program at the national restaurant chain. She ended up attending a seminar in the company's Certified Shift Leader program.

While in attendance, she wore a men's button-up shirt, fitted slacks and boat shoes, similar to what a male manager at a Chili's restaurant would wear, the ACLU account said.

Hunter's general manager later told her that a district manager had seen her at the seminar and commented that she was "inappropriately dressed.''

When she then formally interviewed for the promotion, the general manager again brought up the issue, saying if she got the job she would need to dress more "gender appropriate,'' the ACLU post said, adding that Hunter left the job she had held for two years soon after.

"She was forced to quit because she didn’t fit her boss’s idea of what a woman should look like,'' ACLU officials said.

Chili's issued a statement to The Arizona Republic late Thursday in response to the complaint, saying company officials "do not tolerate any discriminatory behavior in our restaurants."

"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,'' the statement said. "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."

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The ACLU cited a Supreme Court ruling that "established that employers can't punish employees because they don't match stereotypical notions about how women or men should look and act.''

Hunter wrote that she worked at several jobs at the restaurant, including cook, expediter and host, before her most recent job as a server. "My reviews were always top notch.''

The exact location was not specified on the ACLU site.

"I couldn’t continue to work at a place where my willingness to conform to a stereotype was more important than my job performance,'' Hunter wrote. 

Hunter said a co-worker later told her that she was passed over for a bartender position because the same manager who talked to her about her clothes "didn't want a gay girl behind the bar'' because she wouldn't attract "the right kind of clientele.''

Hunter said she wrote Chili's about her experience and was told she must be lying "because the manager's best friend is gay.

"I was so disappointed that the company I loved didn’t even apologize or try to make things right, not just for me, but for all of the other employees who still work there,'' she said.

This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Chili's worker says she was denied promotion because she didn't match 'what a woman should look like'

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