Mary Bassi, a former waitress in a strip club, claims that she was fired for being too old, and sued her employers for age discrimination. In the lawsuit, she claimed that she was teased about Alzheimer’s disease and menopause, repeatedly asked to say how old she was, and finally fired at the age of 56, although she had been performing her job well and had received no disciplinary action. In the months leading up to her firing, she says that her employers started hiring younger waitresses and scheduling them in her place. She was backed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and just settled for $60,000.
“You can’t discriminate against people because of age regardless of what industry they work in,” said her attorney, Connie Wilhite. She explained that age discrimination is a particularly difficult issue for people in the adult entertainment industry, where youth is highly prized. “It lets them know that they’re not just a value because of their youth. They can’t be run out of any industry as they get older.”
As Anna North points out, writing for Jezebel, employment discrimination can be a particularly tricky issue for strip clubs. She references a case last year where a bartender sued her employees for demoting her to a cashier position during her pregnancy; a 44-year-old Canadian stripper also sued because she said that her employers wanted younger women.
The issue is further complicated by the fact that many strip club owners and managers see their female employees’ attractiveness (which is usually synonymous with youth) as an objective marker of merit. It has been argued that there are different standards for measuring how strippers and other women in adult entertainment are performing, because conforming to a particular physical appearance is a part of the job description. This does not, of course, excuse discrimination on the basis of age, marital status, size, sexual orientation, or any other criteria, but it does make it challenging to force employers to realize that they cannot simply hire and fire women on a whim.
This, of course, wasn’t an issue for Bassi, because as a waitress, her age or physical appearance would not have stopped her from serving food. The case seems to be a clear example of age discrimination, in an industry that sees youth as an integral part of its narrow conception of competence and beauty.
Photo from Marcelo at OpenPhoto.net.