Sexual Harassment in the ‘Adult Entertainment’ Industry and Performers’ Legal Options Here in New York

Sexual harassment is never OK. It’s not just wrong, it’s also against the law when it happens at work. Those truths don’t change based on what you do for a living. While the fine details of what does or does not constitute a hostile workplace might shift slightly based on your type of employment, you’re entitled to be free from sexual harassment on the job no matter what you do. If your work experience includes sexual harassment, don’t think that simply must tolerate it. Instead, reach out to an experienced New York City sexual harassment lawyer.

The laws against sexual harassment apply to the strip club industry, but these jobs are often rife with sexual harassment and sexual assault. A 2019 article from the New York Times cited a study that showed the vast majority of exotic dancers surveyed had experienced sexual assault and/or sexual harassment at work. While the women surveyed danced in Portland, Oregon, it is reasonable to imagine that a study of New York City dancers would reveal roughly similar results.

Recently, a dancer at a Queens club sued — and won compensation — based upon the sexual harassment she endured.

The plaintiff, S.Q., was a Black woman who danced at a club in the College Point neighborhood for nearly three years. During that time, the club “fostered an environment of sexual harassment and quid pro quo harassment by managers and promoters.” The man who managed the day-to-day operations of the club made sexual requests of the dancer, along with explicit sexual comments. A promoter regularly contacted the dancer via phone calls and texts to request sex from her. When she denied the requests for sex, “she received fewer and less lucrative shifts than other dancers and therefore less compensation.”

Additionally, the dancer alleged a workplace filled with demeaning language. Managers and promoters allegedly “regularly [used] offensive and demeaning gender-based language.” This allegedly was a variety of misogynistic slurs, including ones that implicated sex. Furthermore, dancers like S.Q. allegedly endured frequent and open “flagrant, and offensive sexual advances…, including unwanted sexual touching.”

The court, in ruling for the dancer, highlighted a very important point that you should keep in mind if you’re considering a sexual harassment lawsuit. Some of the alleged harassment that this dancer witnessed targeted others, not her. The court expressly stated that these allegations were usable within her case, because a worker “who herself experiences discriminatory harassment need not be the target of other instances of hostility in order for those incidents to support her claim,” and that, even if it “was directed towards others, [it] supports a claim that she was subjected to a hostile work environment.”

The court went on to rule that the harassment this dancer endured met the “severe or pervasive” requirement imposed by federal law. Multiple promoters contacted S.Q. and “directly demanded” that she have sex with them, including one that did so “on a regular basis.” Just these events were enough to qualify as severe or pervasive.

Workplace Sexual Harassment and Emotional Distress Damages

The court also concluded that S.Q. was entitled to collect emotional distress damages as part of her sexual harassment judgment. Any of Title VII, the New York State Human Rights Law, or the New York City Human Rights Law can be the basis for successfully seeking an emotional distress award in a sexual harassment case.

S.Q. alleged that the harassment she endured caused her “intense stress and anxiety,” along with insomnia and significant weight loss. Based on that, the court concluded that she was entitled to $30,000 in damages. Had she provided more, she might have recovered more. S.Q. didn’t give the court any “medical or mental health records” and she didn’t make assertions about how long she suffered emotional distress. Had she stated the duration of her distress or had medical/mental health treatment documentation that backed up her allegations, she might have been able to recover damages for “significant emotional distress,” which generally means an award of $50,000-$100,000.

Just because you work in a sex-related or “adult” industry, that doesn’t mean that you surrender your rights at the door. An adult actor is still entitled to be free of sexual assault at work and an exotic dancer should be free to dance without enduring sexual harassment and/or assault. If you’ve been the target of sexual harassment at your job, you may be entitled to a judgment and to recover multiple forms of damages. Get in touch with the experienced New York sexual harassment attorneys at Phillips & Associates to find out more about the legal options that exist and how we may be able to use them to help you. Contact us online or at (866) 229-9441 today to set up a free and confidential consultation.

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