Rather than wishing to shut down the strip club industry like many abolitionists, I wish to reform it in a way that will benefit me and my coworkers. In October of 2014, I started working at Larry Flynt's Hustler Club in Las Vegas, Nevada. I had already been dancing for almost a decade, but this was the first club I worked at that I seriously pursued suing and changing. I retained an attorney in early 2015 and decided to sue Hustler for my unpaid wages and sexual harassment. Because strippers are often mislabeled as independent contractors, we must take the club to court in order to get our employee status recognized, as well as all the benefits that come with being an employee. Only employees are allowed to unionize or be protected by the National Labor Relations Board.
DJs in strip clubs almost always expect dancers to tip them. To them, certain portions of stripper money belongs to them, and they do not care about laws concerning tip pooling, employment or anything related. They will bully dancers relentlessly if they don't get tipped and instigate job loss. Because I don't believe I should have to share my money with my coworkers, I would often tell the DJs that they should form a labor union or ask their employer for a raise if they wanted more money. In return, the DJs at the Hustler club would do things like play me Nickelback songs that I hate, or try to get me fired. None of my efforts to encourage the strip club DJs to unionize worked, but they did start to tell management about me and my ideas.
In addition to telling the DJs to unionize, I told a few of my fellow strippers about my pending claims against the club. I knew that across the country, strip clubs are losing lawsuits when being sued for mislabeling their employees as independent contractors. I believe that one day, my fellow strippers will wake up and decide to organize a labor union, in order to leverage more power against their employers. I occasionally expressed these ideas to my coworkers, because I knew that I was an employee and that expressing such ideas in the workplace is protected speech.
Another person I talked about my litigation to was a male host at the club. I was trying to collect witnesses for my sexual harassment claim. He had repeatedly expressed disgust in his other male coworkers who were sexually harassing us dancers. When I first asked him to be a witness, he said he would only do it if I paid him. When I told him that was illegal, he said he would think about doing it for free. He told me to keep telling him about how my case was going, so that's what I did. At one point, I offered to give him my lawyer's business card to talk about being a witness some more. Everything that I did and talked about was protected speech as an employee. Unbeknownst to me at the time, he was feeding everything I was telling him to management.
One night, I sat next to a young man at the bar who told me he used to work at the club as a bouncer, but was fired when he took too many days off to care for his sick child. I explained to him that if he had a labor union, he wouldn't have gotten fired for that. I brought up how I had found a facebook page made by Hustler employees who are interested in a class action against the club, and I informed him that I had retained a lawyer for my own individual lawsuit against the club. After that, this young man informed me that he was actually a roommate of one of my managers and that he still made money at the club. When I pressed him to tell me how he still made money at the club if he was no longer employed there, all he would tell me was that he was in sales. He wouldn't tell me what he sold, but he told me that if I fucked with his money, he would murder me. He told me that people called him “the sand man” and that he puts people to sleep. I realized he had no interest in labor unions or my lawyer's business card.
Later that same evening, I was called into the manager's office, where I was fired. My employers didn't call it being “fired,” of course. They referred to it as “contract termination,” because they are heavily invested in maintaining the illusion that I am not an employee with rights, but an independent contractor. They explicitly stated that one of the reasons why I was being fired was because I had been talking about suing the club and offered my lawyer's business card to people. I left without conflict and reported the incident to the National Labor Relations Board within a few days.
The NLRB office in Las Vegas is downtown, not far from Fremont street. I explained to them that strip clubs mislabel their employees as independent contractors, because I wanted to make clear what kind of obstacle we were dealing with. They gladly took my complaint anyway, with the understanding that I am actually an employee and I was fired for protected speech. Filing a complaint with the NLRB is only the first step to their process. I still needed to give my affidavit. Since I was concerned about my safety and potential blacklisting, I moved to another state. Less than a month after settling into my new state, the NLRB office in my new city conducted a video affidavit with the Las Vegas office. It was an easy and enjoyable process, even as it was time consuming.
After my affidavit, the NLRB went to Hustler to investigate. It only took about a month. I was happy that they were so speedy in the process. After investigating Hustler, I received a call from the NLRB, informing me that my claims had merit and they would proceed to sue them. A trial date was set for October, while Hustler tried to extend the trial date so they could have more time to plan. I was happy to hear that their request to delay the trial was denied, and the October date remained. Hustler also tried to serve me a subpoena that would've required me to give them all of my private electronic communications and phone records, but I was never served.
The NLRB appointed a free lawyer to represent me. Someone I had never spoken to or made bodily contact with was going to testify against me during this hearing, and intended to say that I shoved her in the club when nobody else was around to see. Hustler intended to tell the courts that they fired me because of this fictitious assault. I don't know if this woman was a customer, staff or dancer. It was pretty mind-blowing to hear about, but I was not surprised that an enormous corporation like Hustler had managed to find a goon willing to lie for them and slander me. Another person who intended to testify was the man who was roommates with my manager and had threatened to kill me after I expressed my organized labor interests with him. I don't know what he was going to say.
Hustler would have had to reinstate my position if I went to trial and won, without causing harm to me after I got my job back. They would also have to put posters up in the workplace where all employees could see them. These posters talk about how I sued them and how they are compliant with NLRB rules, discussing the free speech rights that employees have.
Since I genuinely feared for my life and didn't want to go back there, I started to think about a settlement and what it would take me to do that instead of pursuing what I thought was right. I realized there would have to be a substantial incentive for me to settle, so I, along with my private hired attorney and the NLRB-appointed attorney, started having settlement talks with the Hustler attorneys. Along with the settlement, I wanted a picture of either Harry Mohney or Larry Flynt standing next to the mandatory NLRB poster. I offered to accept less money in exchange for a photo of this kind, but the Hustler people said that my request was a deal-breaker and that I would be allowed “no trophies” for this suit and settlement. I don't regret my decision, nor do I judge anyone in a position similar to me making a different decision. I settled for an undisclosed amount of money that made me so happy I cried.
Larry Flynt and Harry Mohney are two people who have fought for their first amendment rights, with history-making litigation and a popular Hollywood film about the first amendment. It makes me sad that in a place like Hustler where free speech is so honored, I was punished for exercising my rights. Nevada businessmen and lawmakers are making it increasingly difficult to classify employees correctly, by narrowing the definition of what an employee is. As they are doing this, employee rights to talk about the conditions of their employment and potential future labor unions are being taken away from them. Independent contractors don't have those rights. I'm so thankful for people like Larry Flynt, who have taken on obscenity laws in the valley of virtue, but it's so disappointing that his businesses only care about free speech when it benefits their profits and keeps their workers in line. Free speech is for everybody to utilize and leverage, particularly in the workplace where millionaires like Flynt and Mohney have so much power to wield over the working class. I'm so appreciative of the NLRB and their willingness to represent me. It will take continued vigilance on the part of working people to continue our ability to speak freely about working conditions in the workplace and not get punished for it.