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Mixing Business With (Strip Club) Pleasure: A Problem that Remains Persistent, Including in New Jersey

Grace Hopper, a pioneering computer scientist and rear admiral in the U.S. Navy, is credited with having observed that the “hardest thing in the world is to change the minds of people who keep saying, ‘But we’ve always done it this way.’ These are days of fast changes and if we don’t change with them, we can get hurt or lost,” the admiral told a Baltimore newspaper. That reality rings true for employers and supervisors who think that “we’ve always done it this way” works as some sort of immunity against liability for sexual harassment. It doesn’t and, if you’ve endured harassment from an “old boys club” who told you “we’ve always done it this way,” then you should get in touch with an experienced New Jersey sexual harassment lawyer to discuss your situation.

One area where too many employers seem to have a blind eye to the need for change is the issue of mixing business and strip clubs. Most recently, a female employee scored an important federal court victory in her sexual harassment case against her employer, a New Jersey corporation that provided “products and services to mobile network operators.”

The employee, B.C., alleged that the employer’s president and chief technology officer twice attempted to kiss her. Additionally, her supervisor took clients to strip clubs and engaged in discussions of his strip club trips that made B.C. “uncomfortable.”

In its defense, the employer did not contend that the business-related strip club trips and the supervisor’s workplace strip club stories did not happen; rather, the employer simply argued that B.C. “overheard” her supervisor’s strip club-related comments and was not an intended member of the man’s audience.

That was not enough to entitle the employer to win summary judgment and get the woman’s lawsuit tossed. A reasonable jury, the judge determined, could decide that B.C. did not merely “overhear” the strip club commentaries uttered by her supervisor and could ultimately determine that the supervisor’s comments, coupled with the president’s kissing attempts, were severe enough to create a hostile work environment.

A Recurring Problem

This woman’s case is just one of the latest examples where employers and supervisors insisted on continuing to mix business and strip clubs. In 2010, a former vice president at the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce took the chamber to court for sexual harassment, alleging that the chamber was a “boys club” that frequented strip clubs and demeaned women, according to an NJ.com report.

Up until 2018, employees and executives at the athletic wear giant Under Armour took clients, star athletes, and others to strip clubs, then expensed the trips on their company credit cards. And just last year, the CEO of a New York-based electronic parts supplier resigned amid allegations that, during overseas business trips, he forced workers to visit strip clubs and sex shops, then made them “engage with prostitutes.”

There are a couple of different ways where your employer’s combining business and strip clubs can constitute illegal action. One occurs, as was the case with B.C., where a female employee is harassed by inappropriate workplace banter regarding past trips to strip clubs. The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination imposes a “severe or pervasive” standard for sexual harassment cases advanced under the theory of a “hostile work environment.” While a colleague’s single commentary about his last trip to the “Gold Club” may not (absent something more) represent severe harassment, his engaging in such conversation on multiple occasions could present an opportunity to successfully present the discussions as pervasive harassment.

Alternately, there’s the issue of holding business meetings at strip clubs. This practice could potentially represent a case of sex discrimination,  sexual harassment, or both, depending on the facts.

A little more than a decade ago, several female employees sued Walmart for sex discrimination. In their lawsuit, the women alleged that male managers held business meetings (and took them to) various adult-oriented businesses. One Indiana woman described a trip (by car) to and from Walmart headquarters in Arkansas that involved at least three stops at strip clubs. During the first stop, a stripper and a Walmart district manager allegedly proposed to the woman a group sex act involving the three of them.

These, of course, are just a few anecdotal data points of something that is a larger problem. As one lawyer put it, “Sexual Harassment Prevention 101: No Strip Clubs.” Here in 2022, that should be obvious but, in too many workplaces, it obviously isn’t. If you’ve been harmed by working in a hostile workplace like the ones discussed here, get in touch with the experienced New Jersey sexual harassment attorneys at Phillips & Associates. No one should have to endure these kinds of conditions. Contact us online or at (833) 529-3476 today to set up a free and confidential consultation to find out how we can help you.

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