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 raises 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 for 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 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.