PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Two exotic dancers are claiming they were fired because they participated in an organized movement to address racist hiring, employment practices and sexual assault in strip clubs.
The lawsuit recently filed against Topside Entertainment, Inc. and The Venue Gentlemen’s Club states that J Doe and J Roe – the dancers – participated in a group of exotic dancers called Haymarket Pole Collective to raise awareness about racial discrimination and sexual assault of exotic dancers at the club and other strip clubs.
They joined the group after the club was temporarily closed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
They’re suing for unlawful discrimination and unpaid wages, along with seeking economic and non-economic damages and attorney’s fees and costs.
The suit added that the dancers – and their coworkers – had experienced and witnessed “racist treatment” of staff and dancers of color by the defendant’s managers and staff.
Plaintiffs and others in the collective made a public list of requests and started a campaign called “PDX Stripper Strike” to highlight racism, employment practices and sexual assault in the industry, the document said.
“The requests included workplace nondiscrimination policies, procedures, and trainings, particularly focused on addressing racism and preventing sex discrimination in the form of sexual assault by clients; booking practices that ensured equal work for dancers of color; and a show of solidarity with the Collective by posting public support of #PDXStripperStrike on social media,” said the lawsuit.
It also said both dancers texted the defendant’s booking manager and owner, Jeff Elder, a number of times to see if the defendant would support the campaign and agree to requests.
According to the lawsuit, the booking manager did not reply to any of Roe’s email or voicemails and “refused” to put her on the schedule to return to work when the club reopened. However, Doe was allowed to work later that month.
The suit said Doe talked to Elder in person about what “microaggressions and racism looked like in the workplace of The Venue Gentleman’s Club.”
Both dancers later joined in a demonstration in front of the club where the collective presented a letter addressed to the defendant that complained that the club engaged in “unfair working conditions, inequitable scheduling practices and systemic discrimination,” added the suit.
A couple days later, Doe texted Elder the collective’s website and a copy of the letter, according to the lawsuit. The following day, Plaintiff Doe received a copy of their work schedule that looked different than usual, the suit stated.
The document said Roe texted the booking manager the next month to be put on the schedule for work, but claims she never received a response.
“Plaintiff Roe was not allowed to work again, and her employment was terminated,” noted the lawsuit.
According to the suit, Doe texted the same booking manager about scheduling for the next week of work, but said he told Doe the schedule was full. Doe then complained to the owner via text, but the document said he did not respond.
Doe’s employment was also deemed “terminated” after several attempts to contact the booking manager, said the suit.
It added, “As a result of Defendant’s retaliatory conduct, Plaintiffs suffered lost income, emotional distress, mental anguish, humiliation, pain and suffering.”
The plaintiffs said they also filed complaints with BOLI and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
The lawsuit lists six claims of relief, including a violation of Oregon minimum wage laws and federal retaliation for opposing race and sex discrimination. In the suit, the dancers also seek unpaid federal and Oregon minimum wages, along with “civil penalties in the amount of 240 times the minimum wage” for failure to pay wages when due.
KOIN 6 News reached out to The Venue Gentlemen’s Club for comment but did not hear back by deadline. Topside Entertainment, Inc. was listed as “closed” on Google.