ATLANTIC CITY - Resorts Casino Hotel was slapped Thursday with a discrimination lawsuit that claims the gaming hall fired middle-aged cocktail servers to make way for younger women who supposedly looked better in skimpy new costumes.
The state Superior Court suit alleges Resorts and its new owner, Dennis Gomes, created a "sham evaluation process" in which cocktail servers auditioned in the sexy outfits and then were judged on their appearance by a modeling agency representing the casino. The middle-aged employees who did not fit Gomes' "body ideal or appearance ideal" were fired, while younger, sexually attractive women got the job, the suit contends.
Seven former cocktail servers are listed as plaintiffs. They were among 15 middle-aged women who were recently let go by Resorts after the modeling agency concluded they did not look good in the new costumes.
The litigation was filed one day after The Press of Atlantic City reported on the firings. Initial reports said 16 middle-aged women were fired.
Resorts released a statement defending its employment practices, sating the new costumes are a "critical aspect" of the casino's rebranding into a Roaring '20s theme under the new ownership of Gomes and New York real estate magnate Morris Bailey.
"All cocktail servers were given individual consideration and the selection process was conducted in a fair and objective manner," Resorts spokeswoman Courtney Birmingham said in the statement. "We empathize with the cocktail servers who lost their jobs and gave them hiring preference in other open positions at Resorts. Some took advantage of this offer and some did not."
Resorts hopes to attract younger customers to the casino by creating a sexier atmosphere, including having cocktail servers dress up in costumes reminiscent of the 1920s flapper girls. The backless outfits, cut high up the thigh, are accented by fishnet stockings and high heels. Resorts will debut the costumes Memorial Day weekend.
Kevin M. Costello, a New Jersey attorney representing the former cocktail servers, said Resorts and Gomes had no intention of keeping middle-aged women who they thought "weren't feminine enough." He argued that looking fashionable or sexy in revealing costumes is not a legal job requirement for cocktail servers.
"As far as I'm concerned, a man or woman can do that job at any age as long as they have a good personality, a good memory and good balance," Costello said in an interview.
Robert McDevitt, president of Local 54 of UNITE-HERE, which represents casino cocktail servers throughout Atlantic City, alleged Resorts targeted its older workers. He said Resorts has kept less than a third of approximately 70 cocktail servers who worked for the casino under its prior ownership.
On March 16, Costello filed a separate discrimination suit on behalf of 39 former cocktail servers who lost their jobs in an earlier round of firings. Costello said Resorts deliberately tried to avoid discrimination complaints at that time by retaining a diverse group of 25 women - including some middle-aged employees as "decoys." Later, he said, the casino used the new costumes as a ploy for firing middle-aged women.
"In both lawsuits, we contend that the Gomes companies and Mr. Gomes himself conceived a plan to make it appear as if there was no age or gender discrimination," Costello said.
Earlier this week, Gomes declined to comment on the firings other than to say they were conducted in a "fair and balanced way." Resorts declined to comment Thursday beyond Birmingham's prepared statement.
The lawsuits ask the court to reinstate the fired cocktail servers, with full pay. The plaintiffs also are seeking unspecified damages. Both suits noted that additional discrimination complaints will be filed against Resorts in the future.
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