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Festival of Trees volunteer turned away because of what she was wearing

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Posted at 10:45 PM, Dec 09, 2014
and last updated 2014-12-10 09:09:46-05

SALT LAKE CITY -- A Skyline High School senior was not allowed to volunteer at a charity event because she was wearing dress pants.

The incident took place at the annual Festival of Trees on Saturday. All proceeds raised from that event go toward Primary Children's Hospital.

Ellie Kaiser, along with dozens of her classmates, were volunteering at the festival as part of the National Honor Society service project. However, during check-in she was told she could not participate unless she wore a dress or a skirt. Only male volunteers are permitted to wear pants.

"I would definitely describe it as shock at first that's all I could feel," Kaiser said. "I felt the tears coming on -- I just didn't understand why they would be turning away volunteers."

Kaiser was given the option to wear a skirt over her pants suit, but she decided just to leave.

"It just didn't seem right to me," said Kaiser, who wore the slacks during the FOX 13 interview. "This is my most professional, modest outfit that I have -- this is my go-to outfit."

Festival Chair Marie Partridge released the following statement:  "In an effort to address the needs of more than 100,000 visitors to the Festival, volunteers are asked to wear a uniform of sorts to help set them apart from the crowd.

"We have an average of 4-5 children a day who become separated from their parents at the Festival of Trees, and it is our desire to make it quick and easy for our patrons to know who they can turn to for help."

"Honestly I think that's kind of a cover-up for a policy that's just inherently sexist," Kaiser said.

Ellie's mother said she couldn't believe a dress code like this could be enforced in today's day and age.

"She was very embarrassed and very hurt and it was very hard to console her," said Kaiser’s mother Sally.

"Just wearing a skirt does not mean you look good and does not mean you are professional it does not mean someone is going to pick you out of the crowd and say that's the volunteer," Kaiser’s mother said.

Kaiser said she hopes by standing up to the Festival policy she can create change in the future.

"What it stands for, for me, is you know equality of the sexes, me being able to wear the same appropriate dress that a boy could wear and still be considered professional," Kaiser said.