A fast food employee says she was left with no other choice but to walk out on her job after her employer told her to dress more gender appropriately.
Meagan Hunter, 35, said she loved her job at Chili's Bar and Grill in Phoenix, Arizona, before she was told at a training program to become a manager she wasn't able to wear the seemingly gender-neutral uniform.
She wore what male manager's at Chili's wear — a button-up shirt, fitted slacks and boat shoes — but she was told the district manager had seen her at the seminar and said she was "inappropriately dressed".
Ms Hunter told the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) she initially ignored the comment until the general manger of the restaurant pushed the issue further in her interview for the promotion, news.com.au reports.
She said she was told: "We really want to hire you. However, we need you to dress more gender appropriate."
"I said, 'Does that mean I should have my breasts hanging out to succeed in your company?'" Ms Hunter said. "And he backtracked and said, 'No, not in those words.'"
When Ms Hunter asked why she couldn't wear a chef-style coat like the one her general manager wore he apparently told her, "It's for boys."
She said she had no other option but to quit her job because she didn't fit her employer's idea of what a woman should look like.
Ms Hunter was later told by co-workers that the same general manager had said he passed her over for a bartender position because he "didn't want a gay girl behind the bar".
He said he didn't think she would attract the "right kind" of clientele.
The ACLU argues laws introduced nearly 30 years ago banning sex discrimination should have ended this kind of stereotyping in the workplace.
In 1989, the US Supreme Court ruled in favour of business manager Ann Hopkins in a landmark case. She was told her workplace problems would be solved if she would "walk more femininely, talk more femininely, wear make-up, have her hair styled, and wear jewellery".
"That decision established that employers can't punish employees because they don't match stereotypical notions about how women or men should look and act," the ACLU wrote.
"A growing number of lower courts have also recognised that federal law protects workers like Meagan who experience discrimination because of their sexual orientation."
The ACLU has reportedly filed the discrimination charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, citing federal laws that ban discrimination based on gender or sexual orientation.
"When employers punish workers for who they are and what they look like, they lose valuable people like Meagan," the ACLU said. "That's not only wrong and bad for business, it's also against the law."
A Chili's spokesperson told The Hill, a US news site, the restaurant was "alarmed" by the allegations and it doesn't tolerate "any discriminatory behaviour in our restaurants."
The company said Ms Hunter was not denied a promotion, but was "offered the opportunity to be promoted into our certified shift leader program to take the next step on her career journey."
Chili's admitted Ms Hunter was given "feedback" about the restaurant's dress code for managers, but it said "absolutely no mention was made of any need to conform to gender-specific clothing."
"To all of our guests, fans, former and current team members — we love you just as you are, and we intend to show that every single day," the spokesperson said.