Another Strip Club Sued for Age Discrimination

By Jess Christensen, Employment Law Correspondent

A while ago, I wrote about Kimberlee Ouwroulis and Barbara Sanders, both Canadian exotic dancers in their mid-40s who sued the club that fired them for being too old. Now the can you be too old to work at a strip club? debate comes to America.

The EEOC has filed a lawsuit against Houston’s Cover Girls club on behalf of former waitress Mary Bassi, alleging that the club engaged in age discrimination when it fired her in 2006. At the time of her termination, Bassi was 56 years old, and had worked for the club since 1993. According to reports (the complaint itself does not appear to be available online), club managers called Bassi “old” and teased her about entering into menopause and showing signs of Alzheimer’s disease. According to the EEOC attorney handling the case, Bassi had been a high earner until the club started to assign prime shifts to younger waitresses. Attorneys for the club have so far declined to comment on the case. Bassi now works as a waitress for a competitor club—though, competition isn’t stiff (heh), since Cover Girls burnt down in 2007 and hasn’t yet been rebuilt.

Tempest Storm and Bette Paige

Tempest Storm and Bette Paige

As talked about in my earlier post, an employee’s age cannot be considered as a factor in any employment decision, unless age is a Bona Fide Occupational Qualification (BFOQ)—i.e., that age is relevant to the essential functions of the job. While strip club employers will undoubtedly argue that age relates to beauty, and beauty is certainly an essential qualification for adult entertainment establishments such as strip clubs, they might do well to consider the case of Tempest
Who says 81 isn't hot?

Who says 81 isn't hot?

Storm
, who at age 81, is still a crowd pleaser. Although Storm has semi-retired after more than 50 years as a stripper and burlesque dancer, she still makes headliner appearances at such legendary venues as San Francisco’s O’Farrell Brothers Theater and performs frequently in Las Vegas, stripping down to a sheer bra and G-string in front of cheering, packed houses.

And now for a little Friday afternoon entertainment…

8 Responses to Another Strip Club Sued for Age Discrimination

  1. […] Bassi, who was 56 at the time of her firing, wants to know at The Legal […]

  2. Tex says:

    Oh my god–I thought we lived in America?! What is this country coming to when some milf can’t be fired from the strip club?? It’s just another sign of the apocalypse coming.

  3. David says:

    This was linked to at abovethelaw.com

    She was working as, and was fired from, her job as a WAITRESS not a job as a STRIPPER.

    Also, I think I read elsewhere that despite (or because?) she was in her 50s, she was very popular among the clientele.

    So take a waitress (not a stripper) who is popular among the paying customers, and it doesn’t seem like a genuine requirement of the job to be young…

  4. jesschristensen says:

    The story above says she’s a waitress, not a stripper. I don’t think that youth would be a BFOQ, whether she’s a stripper or a waitress though, personally.

    • No? I’m not saying its fair, but if you go to Disney on Ice, you wanna see kids playing the part of all the little mice, right?

      So, if you go to a strip club, you don’t want the best waitress in the city, you want someone who provides an intangible experiental service. I mean, take it out of the context of a strip club — is it wrong to tell a hooters girl that she should probably graduate to TGIFridays after she turns 65?

      Or are you saying, “age is just a number,” and if she’s still hot, then she’s still qualified?

      • jesschristensen says:

        Yeah, that’s kinda what I’m saying…

        An “intangible experiential service” is just that – intangible. Subjective.

        Courts have generally given employers a good deal of leeway to decide matters of appearance with respect to employees. If the club’s contention is that Bassi did not meet a particular standard of appearance necessary to provide the service that the club offers, that’s likely permissible. The Ninth Circuit has ruled, for example, that an employer can require female employees to wear makeup (although, a suit has recently been filed in San Diego that looks like its going to challenge this ruling), if make up is part of the “image” comprising a particular service. Similarly, Hooters can require that its female employees have, well, big hooters.

        That’s different than setting a standard and then saying that a person’s age necessarily doesn’t meet that standard. It may, as a practical matter, be that if the service provided is say, “barely legal” strippers and waitresses, someone who doesn’t appear “barely legal” is no longer qualified. But, if the service offered is simply to tantalize and arouse… I think that’s much tougher. That’s why I included the bit about Tempest Storm, who seems to be still tantalizing (at least for a good number of people) at age 81.

        Culturally, I think an employer is less likely to tell a women, “sorry, but we just don’t think you’re hot anymore.” But, legally, that’s better than saying, “sorry, we think you’re too old to be hot.” I know it seems like a fine line, but the latter is really no different than a software company saying to a programmer that he’s “too old to be edgy,” rather than saying, “you’re not producing edgy work.”

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