New York City Exotic Dancers Fight Back Against Sexual Harassment by Managers, Customers

Sexual harassment remains a major problem in workplaces across the country, and workers in nearly every sector of the economy are fighting back in courtrooms and in public discourse. This includes jobs in which, unfortunately, some people seem to see sexual harassment—and worse—as a sort of occupational hazard. Several recent court cases involving exotic dancers, including one from a Manhattan federal court, offer some hope that this environment is changing for the better. The particular circumstances of this sort of workplace raise multiple legal questions in addition to whether unlawful sexual harassment has occurred. The recent court cases also involved disputes over whether the plaintiffs were employees of the clubs, or independent contractors not subject to the protection of employment statutes like Title VII.

The nature of exotic dancing, more commonly known as stripping, makes it subject to certain prejudices in our rather sex-averse society. Because exotic dancers are involved in a sexually oriented business, asserting claims of sexual harassment can prove even more difficult than in other workplaces. They are entitled, however, to the same protections against sexual harassment and other gender-based discrimination as any other worker. This includes sexual harassment by supervisors, managers, co-workers, and customers.

In addition to societal prejudices against their line of work, exotic dancers face the challenge of establishing an employment relationship with the clubs where they work. Many clubs attempt to classify dancers as independent contractors rather than employees. Their pay might come exclusively from cash obtained from customers, with the club providing no wages or salary. At the same time, however, the club or its employees might have the authority to assign shifts and to tell dancers when and where to work. More and more courts are ruling that this degree of control by a club creates an employment relationship.

A federal court ruled in 2013 that dancers in a Manhattan club were employees for the purposes of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and the New York Labor Law (NYLL). Hart v. Rick’s Cabaret Intern., 967 F.Supp.2d 901 (S.D.N.Y. 2013). Other courts have reached similar rulings. See, e.g. Terry v. Sapphire Gentlemen’s Club, 336 P.3d 951 (Nev. 2014). These cases involved various wage claims, but they hopefully open the door for claims under anti-discrimination statutes like Title VII, the New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL), and the New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL).

report published by Vice in December 2015 recounts the experiences of a woman who has worked as an exotic dancer in clubs around the country. After a manager at a Las Vegas club allegedly grabbed her as she was getting into an elevator, she decided to sue the club for sexual harassment. The Nevada Supreme Court’s decision in Terry, referenced above, gave her cause for hope. If she was an employee in a workplace, she had protection under Title VII against quid pro quo sexual harassment and a hostile work environment. The current status of her lawsuit is not clear, but she obtained her own victory in a wage claim against a different club earlier this year. Campbell v. Kladek, Inc. d/b/a King of Diamonds Gentlemen’s Club, No. 19WS-CO-15-461, order (Minn. Dist. Ct., Dakota Co., Jan. 28, 2016).

The sexual harassment attorneys at Phillips & Associates help New York City employees and job applicants assert claims under city, state, and federal law for unlawful employment practices. Please contact us today online or at (866) 229-9441 to schedule a free and confidential consultation with a knowledgeable and experienced advocate for employee rights.

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