ATLANTIC CITY - Nine former Resorts Casino Hotel cocktail waitresses who say they were fired because their employer didn't think they were sexy enough to wear the casino's revealing new Roaring '20s flapper outfits have acquired a high-profile lawyer to wage their battle.
Feminist lawyer Gloria Allred, whose clients have included the family of Nicole Brown Simpson, and Tiger Woods' alleged mistress Rachel Uchitel, filed a lawsuit Tuesday in Atlantic County Superior Court against Resorts on behalf of the beverage servers.
As part of a plan to rebrand the aging property, Resorts and its owner, Dennis Gomes, "undertook a plan to change the makeup" of their female staff to ensure that it would be "younger, slimmer, sexier, and more conforming to a stereotype of feminine beauty," the suit alleges.
Allred, of Los Angeles, revealed details of the suit at a news conference on the Boardwalk, steps from the casino entrance, where she was joined by seven of the plaintiffs.
The suit is the latest salvo in the war between a number of middle-age former cocktail waitresses - including several who began work there when it opened in 1978 - and Resorts, which was purchased by Gomes last year. Last week, the public got its first look at the Prohibition-themed casino, which was inspired by HBO's successful miniseries Boardwalk Empire and includes short, black flapper dresses for female beverage servers.
The suit seeks back pay and damages for pain and suffering for the nine women and is similar to a lawsuit filed by other former waitresses in March.
The latest suit alleges that the older waitresses were forced to audition for their jobs by trying on the skimpy costumes and submitting to photographs in awkward, unflattering positions. Some of the women said the outfits were ill-fitting or not their size.
The women were made to train new hires, then were dismissed as soon as their younger replacements learned the ropes, according to the suit.
Recommendations regarding which servers to retain were made by a panel from a modeling agency and were based on the photographs, court documents said.
Resorts officials declined to comment directly on the lawsuits, but said in a prepared statement that the casino had "acted in accordance with all legal requirements in its employment decisions."
"As we indicated before, cocktail servers were given individual consideration, and the selection process was conducted in a fair and objective manner," the statement read.
The plaintiffs said they had been longtime, loyal employees of the casino with "exceptional" employment histories, attendance records, and job-performance ratings.
"That is why I could not believe that they suddenly fired me," said Margie DePamphilis, 54, of Northfield, N.J., who began work at Resorts in 1978, when the property became Atlantic City's first casino.
"I was in a state of shock because working there was my life, and I did nothing to deserve this. I feel betrayed, sad, angry, hurt, and I am emotionally devastated" DePamphilis said. "How could they do this to me?"
Elsa Hernandez, 57, a grandmother from Pleasantville, N.J., who was a 12-year employee, put it more succinctly: "I feel that I have been thrown out like a piece of trash."
Allred, who is cocounsel with New Jersey lawyer Virginia Hardwick, is noted for her work on cases involving women's rights. A frequent commentator on legal and political television programs, she made a name for herself early in her career by suing the all-male Friars Club in Beverly Hills. She later represented Amber Fry, a witness in the case against alleged wife-murderer Scott Peterson, who had been Fry's lover.
"Maybe [Resorts' owners] think they can profit by using young women as bait to hook in young men to buy drinks, but it's wrong," said Allred, who encouraged casino patrons to take their business elsewhere. "Women are not just sex objects. They are real human beings."