Hawking Chico's high-end female fashion was Charissa Villanueva's bread and butter. But behind her salesperson smile lurked bitter unhappiness. Villanueva had spent $500 to conform to the California store's dress code. Chico's policy required all employees to wear either its brand, or clothing in the style of its brand. Frustrated that she had to spend so much of her earnings to comply with the policy, she filed suit.
"We alleged that Chico's was in violation of California's labor code," says Patrick Kitchin, who represented Villanueva in a class action against Chico's. He and attorney Daniel Feder have pursued similar suits against Polo Ralph Lauren and GAP/Banana Republic. "The law states that if an employer wants its employees to wear a uniform, the cost of the uniform and the cost of maintaining the uniform has to be bourn by the employer."
Still, there are even more hairs that can be split, including locale. What may be common attire for a foodservice employee in Northern California might differ greatly from the style of sunny Southern California.
"It's a good idea to ask employees and job applicants about the wardrobe they already own," Dixon says. "This way you can better determine whether it is a standard piece of apparel or puts a burden on employees."