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Friday, June 22, 2012

Strippers Have Rights Too

There have been two recent stories about strippers and discrimination in the news lately.

Sarah Tressler is a journalist who worked her way through journalism school stripping. Her newspaper employer fired her when they found out she was moonlighting as a stripper. She claims gender discrimination. The newspaper says they fired her for failing to disclose it on her application. Her double life was uncovered by a rival paper. It probably didn't help that she was blogging about her exploits.

An Indiana stripper has filed sexual harassment charges against her employer. She alleges severe physical and verbal sexual harassment.

While many sexual harassers (and their employers) seem to think that "she asked for it" is a defense, it's not. Just because a woman takes her clothes off for a living does not mean that she welcomes groping and sexual advances from her employer. Whether she works for Hooters, as a professional sports cheerleader, or as a stripper, women who dress and act sexy for a living can't be sexually harassed. If advances are unwelcome, they are illegal. The employer must create a safe workplace, free from sexual harassment. While being leered at may be part of the job, being groped isn't.

Now, going back to Tressler, I guess it depends on the totality of the facts. If the judge and/or the jury finds that the employer requires disclosure of an employee's full employment history and/or second jobs, and they fire everyone who doesn't disclose, the employer may be able to convince them it had a legitimate reason for the firing. If not, then the question will be whether men have had similar jobs and weren't fired.

For instance, if they say it's her blog they don't like, then if other male bloggers haven't been fired, it could be sex discrimination. If men have worked as waiters wearing skimpy outfits, as dancers for bachelorette parties, or posing for pinup calendars and weren't fired, then the newspaper will have a hard time proving she wasn't singled out due to her gender.

Strippers and other women (and men) who have jobs that require little or no clothing still have rights. Those rights include the right not to be discriminated against and the right not to be sexually harassed. There is no stripper exemption to Title VII.

3 comments:

  1. Hi Donna,

    When I was in law school, I took on a wage & hour claim involving a stripper who worked for tips only and had to pay the strip club $300 per shift for the right to work. On slow days, she had to go to the ATM and get money to pay her stage fee, or she'd be fired. It turned into an $18 million dollar class action.

    During the dicovery phase, I learned an awful lot more than I ever wanted to about stripping in San Francisco. Never mind the constant harassment, rape was not unheard of. At one club, the manager was known to keep a loaded gun in his desk and would fire it at the ceiling when he was upset. Moreover, there are rumors of sex trafficking (you hear about "girls from Homduras who don't get to keep any of the money they earn," etc.)

    In my opinion, it's a horrible and dangerous way to make a living. I interviewed preschool teachers, Berkeley grad students, meth addicts and runaway teenagers who stripped. Very few of them enjoyed their work. Many also provided sex services. (Most were survivors of sexual abuse.) Almost of of them turned to stripping bcause they didn't see other options. A few of the women I met would "date" men outside the clubs and brag about how much money they extracted from their targets. I think there was a sense that if you make enough money selling your body, it somehow makes the work respectable.

    Because in most places, strippers are treated as "independent contractors, they have no workers comp coverage, no health benefits, etc. There is a huge tuberculosis epidemic in the SF sex industry and sexually transmitted disease is rampant. Chemical dependence is everywhere --some strip clubs even have in-house pushers who keep strippers "medicated."

    If a job candidate was able to attend and graduate from journalism school while stripping, without using drugs, I'd hire her in a minute. That gal will be able to deal with anything you throw at her. Literally. (But don't throw things at your employees, please.)

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  2. Hi Susan. What an awful story! I'm glad some people are fighting for this poorly protected group.

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    1. Thank you Donna for even talking about strippers. They are such a disadvantaged and disenfranchised group of workers and most people want to pretend strippers don't even exist.

      Minami Tamaki, a brave plaintiff's firm in SF, took the class action after a law student pitched it (by explaining that I wasn't actually a lawyer yet and needed to study for the bar exam). If you ever need hero lawyers in CA, they are the real thing.

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