Racially Tinged Job Discrimination Case Pits Waitress against Exotic Nightspot

Manhattan Supreme Court will hear the case of a latina waitress named Melody Morales, who has accused the Hawaiian Tropic Zone Restaurant of race-based job discrimination. Morales claims that her application for employment was turned down — despite her “ample” qualifications in the looks department — due to the fact that she is Puerto Rican and Dominican in ethnicity.

Morales’s suit is not the first discrimination or harassment suit to be brought against the Hawaiian Tropic Zone. In a separate matter, four female employees have also sued the restaurant. In their Federal Court case, they’re seeking over half a billion dollars in damages. These women claim that the management of the restaurant allowed a chronic and pervasive atmosphere of sexual harassment and discrimination to flourish.

The cases of Melody Morales and these four women force one to conjure up interesting questions of law, ethics, and even feminist theory. On the one hand, Morales and the other four women who’ve sued the Hawaiian Tropic Zone all ostensibly didn’t mind exploiting their bodily assets to earn money. On the other hand, these women refused to endure harassment and bullying without putting up a fight. So their roles as feminist icons (or antifeminist icons, as it were) are complicated and not subject to easy analysis.

What’s not complicated is the fact that sexual harassment and race-based discrimination cases like Morales’s appear to be a problem endemic to many restaurants. With better legal protections in place for women and minorities — and better education for managers and owners — hopefully we will see the number of these types of discrimination suits dwindle.