Former Dancers Sue Chicago Strip Club, Citing Sexual Assaults and Hostile Work Environment

Four former dancers have filed a lawsuit against Rick’s Cabaret, a strip club located on 1531 N. Kingsbury St. in Chicago, alleging that management allowed customers to assault them through biting, unwanted touching, exposing their genitals, and choking. According to the lawsuit, Rick’s Cabaret fostered a hostile work environment where female dancers were routinely subjected to egregious assaults and batteries in the presence of management and bouncers who did nothing to intervene. The plaintiffs are seeking class-action status for the lawsuit, which also alleges that the club deliberately misclassified the dancers as independent contractors to avoid complying with federal and state laws on fair compensation and discrimination.

The former dancers, Stephanie Corral, Nicole Potenzo, Lisa Waddel, and Stephanie Hansen, are joined in the lawsuit by RCI Hospitality Holdings, Pooh Bah Enterprises, Eric Langan, CEO of Hospitality Holdings, and several members of Rick’s upper management. In response to the lawsuit, a representative for Pooh Bah Enterprises denied the allegations and stated that the claims were false. Rick’s is a seminude strip club with a liquor license, which requires the dancers to wear nipple coverings, in accordance with the city’s liquor ordinance. The lawsuit alleges that Rick’s management did not inform customers that they were not allowed to touch the dancers, leading to frequent unwanted harassment, including groping and unwanted touching in private VIP rooms, on the stage, and in open areas inside the club. There are currently four licensed strip clubs in the city of Chicago.

According to the lawsuit, one incident involved a customer in a VIP room attempting to pull Potenzo’s underwear to the side in order to penetrate her with his fingers. When she told him to stop, he bit her neck and shoulder hard. Despite reporting the attack to two managers at the club, they allegedly did nothing and allowed the customer to stay. In another incident, a customer exposed his genitals while Waddell’s back was turned. Waddell told him to put it away, and after reporting the incident to management, the customer was allowed to stay while Waddell was fired shortly afterwards. The lawsuit also describes several other instances of customers allegedly assaulting dancers, with little to no response from management.

The suit also claims that the company deliberately misclassified the dancers as independent contractors, despite micromanaging them with strict rules governing their behavior, performance fees, and other aspects of their work. The lawsuit alleges that this misclassification allowed the club to avoid complying with federal and state laws on fair compensation and discrimination.

The lawsuit further alleges that the dancers who walked out of a VIP session after an assault were not paid for the dance, resulting in “severe physical, psychological and emotional harm” to the plaintiffs. In 2014, a similar class-action lawsuit against a Rick’s Cabaret in New York resulted in a $10 million partial summary judgment, with dancers arguing that the company cheated them out of wages by misclassifying them as independent contractors. The company ultimately reached a $15 million settlement in 2015, estimated to be paid out to thousands of dancers.

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