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Hooters assails arbitration decision

Usually when I contact companies seeking comment on a case I’m covering, the response is some variation of “we can’t talk because the litigation is pending.” This week, however, representatives from Johns Hopkins and the Rockefeller Foundation gave strongly worded denials to a $1 billion lawsuit brought by Guatemalans who allege they were unknowingly infected with STDs.

Then, on Thursday night, Hooters responded equally strongly, this time to news that an arbitrator awarded $250,000 to a black former Hooters Girl who alleged she was fired for having blond highlights in her hair. The company said in a statement that Farryn Johnson’s claims were without merit, and it criticized the arbitrator’s decision as “adverse and flawed.” Hooters said the arbitrator “demonstrated an unfortunate bias and a complete disinterest in hearing Hooters’ version of the facts.”

The company also claimed it originally offered an earlier settlement that would have given Johnson “almost four times as much as she was eventually awarded.”

But beyond criticizing the decision, Hooters also defended its “image policy,” which the arbitrator found racially discriminatory.

“In light of today’s decision, it is important that the public — especially our customers, current and future Hooters Girls — know the truth, which is not reflected by [the arbitrator’s] ruling,” the company said. “We value and respect all of our Hooters Girls and celebrate their diversity, as evidenced by our annual swimsuit calendar models, our Miss Hooters International contestants, Hooters Girl of the Year nominees and the nearly 18,000 Hooters Girls working in our restaurants across the globe today.”

The company’s “Image Standards” help separate Hooters from its imitators, it added.

Ericka Whitaker, Hooters’ senior brand manager and former Hooters Girl, said the standards are the same for all servers no matter their race or ethnicity.

“As a former Hooters Girl who happens to be African-American, I, like countless other African-American Hooters Girls today, regularly wore my hair in various shades of blond, or any other color consistent with our ‘girl next door’ image,” she said in the statement.