Nancy Polikoff

Harrah's instrumental in Nevada DP victory, but what about Darlene Jespersen?

Filed By Nancy Polikoff | June 26, 2009 2:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics, The Movement
Tags: Darlene Jespersen, Nevada domestic partnership

Last night, Harrah's Entertainment hosted a Las Vegas victory party for the passage of Nevada's new domestic partner law.

By all accounts, Harrah's also deserves much credit for lobbying Nevada legislators to pass the new law and then to get enough votes to override the governor's veto. They want the LGBT community to come to Nevada and spend money in their casinos. I'm ready to give Harrah's all the credit they deserve for this astonishing legislative win (which, to my glee, allows different-sex couples to register as well).

But there's another side to Harrah's, and so I'd like to know ... do they still fire their female employees who refuse to wear feminine make-up? Because that's what they did to Darlene Jespersen.

Darlene Jespersen had been a bartender at Harrah's in Reno for more than 20 years --with outstanding job performance -- when she refused to adhere to their new appearance rules that required her to wear powder, blush, mascara, and lipstick. Harrah's actually made up Jespersen they way they wanted her to look -- part of what they called their "Personal Best" program, photographed her, and then required her to look exactly like that photograph. Click here for the photos of Jespersen. Jespersen gave it a try but ultimately could not bear it. She described it as demeaning. So Harrah's fired her.

Lambda Legal represented Jespersen in an action against Harrah's charging them with unlawful sex-stereotyping (since, of course, only women -- and all women -- had to wear this kind of make=up) Jespersen lost, all the way to the full Ninth Circuit US Court of Appeals. That left Harrah's free to discriminate against any gender non-conforming employee.

So I'm happy to give them their due for their active, persistent and successful efforts to get domestic partner status in Nevada. But before I give them my business (I stayed away from their hotels and casinos when I visited Las Vegas in 2007), I'd like to know if they are still firing -- and not hiring -- women who won't make themselves up to look what Harrah's thinks is their "personal best" but is really just another way of demanding gender conformity,


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Bravo, Nancy. We must look behind the smoke and lights, and remember not to be seduced by the smiling faces to forget that this is about the right to be who we are, not the ideals they envision of what a gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender person should look like.

I don't think Harrah's has the "personal best" dress code anymore.

I don't think Harrah's has the "personal best" dress code anymore.