NEW ORLEANS – Three exotic dancers
filed a federal lawsuit on Sept. 22 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana
alleging that a new state law restricting the age of strip club dancers to 21 or older
Identified in the lawsuit as
Jane Doe I, II and III, the three dancers say Act No. 395 (the law) violates
their First Amendment rights to express themselves with erotic dance, and their
14th Amendment rights for equal protection.
Aug. 1, 2016, the law reads, in part, “Subject to the provisions of Subsection
D of this Section, entertainers whose breasts or buttocks are exposed to view shall
perform only upon a stage at least eighteen inches above the immediate floor
level, and removed at least three feet from the nearest patron, and shall be twenty-one
years of age or older.”
law introduces age-based restrictions that did not exist before the enactment
of the law. The age of majority in Louisiana is 18. The law prohibits adults who
have reached the age of majority in Louisiana but who have not yet reached the
age of 21 from performing as erotic dancers.
The plaintiffs claim the law unlawfully
targets women, citing the definition in the new law that expressly defines
performers as entertainers whose breasts or buttocks are exposed. The
plaintiffs claim that language explicitly references women, not men, and as
such, discriminates based on gender.
“The First Amendment protects a broader array of
both verbal and nonverbal communication than political speech,"
attorney and human rights
advocate Pamela Newport told the Louisiana Record. "While I think a
court would agree that a state could ban nude dancing for minors, I'm not sure
that the same argument would hold true for adults, albeit, young adults.”
Newport said the biggest
hurdle for the plaintiffs is that legal distinctions based on age are generally
only subject to rational basis review, meaning that the state will only have to
prove it has a legitimate interest in the law and there is a reasonable link between
that interest and the challenged law. “Going back to the 1970s, the U.S.
Supreme Court has either hinted or expressly ruled that nude dancing is a form
of expression protected by the First Amendment. Although the Court has upheld
some restrictions on this expression, an outright ban is unconstitutional,”
lawsuit also contends the law infringes on the plaintiffs' 14th Amendment rights. It says the
the law was “(e)nacted to regulate and ‘protect’ women aged eighteen, nineteen
and twenty. Such protective, discriminatory legislation is prohibited by the Equal
Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and
Article I, § 3 of the Louisiana Constitution of 1974.”
In an effort to illustrate the legislators’ alleged intent to
discriminate based on gender, the lawsuit also quotes comments by some legislators
during the legislative session.
Robby Carter commented during a legislative session: “We need to do something
to get these people [to] recognize that there’s another way of living, you
know. I wish there was something we could do to make them [erotic dancers] go
to church or something.”
Beryl Amedee made the following statement to the Louisiana House of
Representatives: “Now I know a lot of people in the room are thinking of their
daughters, their younger sisters, perhaps and they’re thinking, ‘well I don’t
want my daughter doing that.’ But, think about the girls who do these jobs, who
don’t have a dad, who don’t have a big brother, who would say ‘I really don’t
want you doing that for a living, I don’t want you in that environment.'”
Walt Leger stated that the bill was brought in an effort to protect “young
Julie Stokes responded to the comments during the session stating, “Looking out
over this body [the House of Representatives], I’ve never been more repulsed to
be part of it. I can’t even believe the behavior in here. I think we need to
call an end to this. I hear derogatory comments about women in this place
regularly, I hear and I see women get treated differently than men. . . . That
was utterly disrespectful and disgusting.”
sees the law as a constitutional violation.
“This legislation violates the 14th Amendment in that it discriminates
against women, given the ‘bare breasts and buttocks’ language, in conjunction
with the legislative history and the discussion by at least one legislator that
the law is to protect young women,” she said.
plaintiffs claim, although the intent of the bill is illegal, its enforcement will
create more harm for dancers aged 18, 19 and 20 because they will be at an
increased risk from pimps, prostitutes, and traffickers. Jane Doe I said she witnessed
pimps and prostitutes attempting to use the law’s age restrictions to recruit
entertainers who cannot perform any longer.
Jane Doe II said her income was
reduced by more than 50 percent as a result of the law’s enactment, and all plaintiffs
claim it will force others in similar situations into prostitution.
“The legislation passed reeks
of the worst kind of paternalism and sexism disguised as chivalry," Newport said. "I don't
see how this legislation can possibly pass constitutional muster. The state
would have to show some pretty specific and direct harm to women 18-20 from
exotic dancing in order to justify the restrictions.”