The hosts of a popular Manhattan strip were nothing more than pimps who forced the club’s exotic dancers into prostitution while cheating on their pay and punishing them for complaining, according to a $25 million new lawsuit.
Two former dancers, Margaret O’Sullivan and Stephanie Krauel, said in a lawsuit filed in Manhattan Supreme Court that their bosses at the Sapphire Gentlemen’s Club were more like brothel managers who coerced strippers into performing sex acts on clients while ignoring sexual and physical assault, illicit drug use and underage drinking.
“Fueled by greed and the unseemly promise to fulfill ‘every man’s fantasies,’ Sapphire New York created and maintained a toxic work environment, where Sapphire dancers were coerced into serving customers, with any sexual act that they ‘a client desired, for a price,’ reads the lawsuit filed by attorney Jon Norinsberg.
“And because greed inevitably leads to more deplorable behavior, the prostitution ring created by the defendants was a catalyst for a vast array of other illegal acts.”
The party atmosphere, flashing lights and loud music hid a hostile and toxic work environment, the lawsuit says.
As it happens
Get updates on the coronavirus pandemic and other news as they happen with our free email alerts.
According to court documents, dancers who complained about the conditions faced reprisals that resulted in lost wages and harassment. The club and its owners committed wage violations by classifying workers as independent contractors and deceived dancers using pay-to-play policies, kickback schemes and tip theft, the lawsuit alleges .
Dancers who refused to participate in prostitution saw their earnings drop from around $2,000 a night to a few hundred dollars, according to the lawsuit, which seeks class-action status.
“Defendants created and perpetuated a work culture where violent behavior by a client was in fact condoned,” the lawsuit said. “In doing so, the defendants sent the message that Sapphire’s singular agenda was to maximize profits at all times, regardless of the law, the safety of the defendants’ dancers, or basic human decency.”
Club owners or managers could not immediately be reached for comment.
According to the lawsuit, managers of the W. 39th Street club controlled the club’s private rooms, where dancers typically earn more money. There, customers were told they could get “anything [they] wanted”, often without the knowledge of the dancers or without their consent.
Sometimes the extra service included “cocaine and condoms,” according to the lawsuit.
The plaintiffs seek $10 million in compensatory damages related to emotional, physical and occupational trauma, and $15 million in punitive damages.