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Woman fined $100 for going topless files suit challenging city ordinance

By Bethany Krajelis | Nov 13, 2014

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A woman who was ticketed for indecent exposure this past summer at a “GoTopless Day” event in Chicago has asked a federal judge to throw out a city ordinance that bars women from exposing their bare breasts in public.

Filed Wednesday in Chicago’s federal court, Sonoko Tagami’s six-page lawsuit asserts that Section 8-8-80 of the city’s Municipal Code “is impermissibly vague” and violates free speech and equal protection rights under the U.S. Constitutions as it prevents females who go topless, but not men.

The complaint names the City of Chicago as a defendant, as well as the Ramona Stovall, the Chicago cop who ticketed Tagami, and the city’s Department of Administrative Hearings because an administrative law judge fined her $100 last month.

Tagami is a supporter of “GoTopless,” an organization her suit says “advocates for the right of women to appear bare-chested in public” and is behind the “GoTopless Day” event to further its mission.

The annual event always takes place on the Sunday before Aug. 26, Women’s Equality Day, according to the group’s website. Women who participate in the event, according to Tagami’s suit, “appear in public with their breasts uncovered in municipalities where local laws allow it; in other areas, female participants in the event seek to cover their breasts in the manner required by local law.”

Section 8-8-80 of Chicago’s Municipal Code bans females from exposing "any portion of the breast at or below the upper edge of the areola” and provides for a fine of $100 to $500.

To comply with the city’s ordinance, Tagami says she and other women who participated in the “GoTopless Day” events in Chicago between 2010 and 2013 used opaque  body paint to cover the portions of their breasts as required under the code’s public indecency provision.

She claims Chicago police officers knew about the participants’ use of opaque body paint and “did not take any action to prevent plaintiff and other women from expressing their views” that women, like men, should be able to be bare-chested in public.

That, however, changed on the most recent “Go Topless Day” event in August, when Tagami says defendant Stovall told her “to discontinue her protest lest she be subjected to a full custodial arrest” even though she covered portions of her breasts with opaque body paint as in previous years.

Tagami complied and Stovall then wrote her a ticket for indecent exposure.

After appearing before an administrative law judge in October, Tagami was ordered to pay a $100 fine for violating the city’s ordinance. She notes in her suit that the administrative law judge “did not have the authority to pass upon the constitutionality, either on its face or as applied, of Chicago Municipal Code 8-8-80 and could therefore not consider plaintiff’s defense.”

In a statement on GoTopless’ website that was released after Tagami was fined, a spokesperson for the group said the administrative law judge “purposefully found” Tagami guilty of indecent exposure so she could appeal and challenge the ordinance’s constitutionality.

Represented by Chicago attorneys Joel and Kenneth Flaxman, Tagami is asking that a federal judge reverse the administrative law judge’s order and deem the city’s ordinance unconstitutional. She also wants the court to “award appropriate compensatory damages against” the city and Stovall.

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