Boss Who Asked Stripper for Private Show May Be Harasser

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By Jon Steingart

A strip club manager who allegedly asked an exotic dancer to show him her breasts while she wasn’t performing for customers will have to defend against sexual harassment claims, a federal judge in North Carolina ruled March 13 ( Clark v. Top Shelf Entm’t, LLC , W.D.N.C., No. 3:16-cv-00144, 3/13/17 ).

Sexual harassment is typically thought of as unwelcome actions that create a sexually hostile workplace. This decision shows that the standard isn’t different for an establishment where the main business is providing sexually charged entertainment.

A manager asking an employee to show her breasts is ordinarily a “textbook case” of sexual harassment, Judge Max O. Cogburn Jr. of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina said. There is no reason to interpret dancer Asia Clark’s agreement to perform at Club Onyx in Charlotte, N.C., in states of undress as a license for a supervisor to demand she remove her top for his personal gratification, the judge said.

Topless Requests OK in Some Circumstances

The bright-line rule for what constitutes sexual harassment is blurred when the person claiming to be harassed works as an exotic dancer, Cogburn said. There could be occasions, such as interviews and rehearsals, when it wouldn’t be harassment to ask a performer to remove her top, he said.

RCI Hospitality Holdings Inc., parent company of Top Shelf Entertainment LLC, which operates Club Onyx, might have prevailed in its motion for summary judgment if that were all Clark alleged, Cogburn said. But her claim that the manager asked her to show her breasts “for personal, prurient interests unrelated to a legitimate business need” went beyond what her job required, the judge said.

A representative for Club Onyx couldn’t be reached for comment March 15. Clark’s attorney declined to comment, citing ongoing litigation.

Kristen Finlon with Finlon Law PLLC in Charlotte, N.C., represented Clark. John Hasty and Langdon Cooper with Mullen, Holland & Cooper PA in Gastonia, N.C., represented Club Onyx.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jon Steingart in Washington at jsteingart@bna.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Peggy Aulino at maulino@bna.com; Terence Hyland at thyland@bna.com; Christopher Opfer at copfer@bna.com

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