An adult entertainment waitress is up $60,000 after settling a lawsuit with her former strip club employers after, she says, they called her "old," teased her about Alzheimer's disease and menopause, and then fired her at age 56.
"You can't discriminate against people because of age regardless of what industry they work in," said Connie Wilhite, the attorney who handled her case.
The Houston-based strip club, Cover Girls, fired Mary Bassi, now 60, in 2006 although she'd been performing her job well and received no disciplinary action, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which took on the case.
In the months leading up to Bassi's firing, managers began hiring younger female waitresses and scheduling them in her place, according to Wilhite.
But Bassi has not been deterred by the industry. She's back working as a waitress at another sexually oriented business with different owners.
The suit was brought against AHD Houston Inc. and W.L. York Inc., both owned by Ali and Hassan Davari, brothers who operate Cover Girls.
Ali Hassan and his lawyer, Lauren Serper of Houston, did not return calls requesting comment.
While issues like hair color, eye color and weight can, at times, be grounds for firing if they hinder a person's ability to do their job, Title VII protects people from being fired for their gender, age, race, religion, national origin or disability, according to Randy Schmidt, a clinical professor of law at the University of Chicago Law School.
Schmidt said employers often will pressure people out of their jobs with comments like, "I think the job's getting too much for you."
Age discrimination is a common issue for strippers and topless dancers, according to Wilhite, who works for EEOC. She said the settlement was significant for women in adult entertainment.
"It lets them know that they're not just a value because of their youth," she said. "They can't be run out of any industry as they get older."
Cover Girls closed its doors because of a fire shortly after Bassi was fired.
A male general manager in his 30s was the main person responsible for the harassment, which lasted about a year, according to Wilhite. He's accused of mocking Bassi by asking how old she was, repeatedly teasing her about her age and making jokes about her experiences with menopause.
Cover Girls is expected to reopen in early 2011.