Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Suit says Clearwater strip club discriminated

CLEARWATER — The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission announced on Wednesday, the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, that it is suing a strip club accused of illegally firing an African-American bartender and a manager who protested the discrimination.

According to the action filed in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, Bliss Cabaret owner Michael Tomkovich in February 2012 ordered manager Patrick Franke to fire Quatavia Harden, a bartender he had worked with before and recently hired, because Tomkovich didn't want black people working there. Franke, who is white, complained to Tomkovich and a supervising regional manager.

He was suspended and then fired, too, the suit states. Evidence includes a text message from the regional manager instructing Franke to fire Harden.

EEOC attorneys say the club's actions violate federal laws barring race discrimination and retaliation against employees who oppose it. Their suit asks the court to force the club to drop its discriminatory practices, as well as to rehire and issue back pay to Harden and Franke.

Tomkovich did not return a message seeking comment. A manager for the club, at 3860 Ulmerton Road, declined to comment. The club has been renamed Executive Gentleman's Club.

Officials said the EEOC reviews thousands of discrimination complaints a year and a "very small percentage" go to litigation. But regional attorney Robert E. Weisberg said the allegations against Tomkovich, who owns about 10 adult clubs throughout the southeastern United States, are "egregious."

"In this case, it just appears that he was intent on not having African-Americans be the face of his business and that was important to us," said senior trial attorney Aarrin Golson. "We feel this way about any establishment that takes the stance that it's not going to have African-Americans be part of the organization. It's a big issue especially in light of (this week) being the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act. It's kind of ridiculous that 50 years later, we're still battling these issues."

Said Weisberg: "The case challenges a policy which emanated from top management. And it's a reminder of the law. … There's still a need for it and it applies to all types of industries — from offices to construction sites to gentleman's clubs. There's no exception."

Franke, the fired manager, said he has since been "blackballed" from the nightclub industry in which he was widely sought for years. Now a general manager at a KFC restaurant, he has taken a 50 percent pay cut.

But, he said, "I don't regret doing the right thing. If I could do it all over again, I'd still do the same thing."

Attempts to reach Harden were unsuccessful.

Suit says Clearwater strip club discriminated 07/03/14 [Last modified: Thursday, July 3, 2014 10:37pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Editorial: Scott's poor choice for CFO


    Gov. Rick Scott didn't reach too deeply into Florida's talent pool in appointing his friend Jimmy Patronis to fill a vacancy as the state's new chief financial officer. This is an exceptionally weak choice for a Cabinet post that requires a sophisticated understanding of banking and other financial services, and it …

    Jimmy Patronis’ selection is about politics.
  2. Tampa Bay child welfare agencies get additional state funding, plan to hire more social workers


    TAMPA — Buoyed by the award of an additional $3.7 million in state funding, Eckerd Kids plans to hire more social workers to ease the strain on Hillsborough County's overburdened child welfare system.

    The child welfare system in Hillsborough County will get an additional $3 million in funding for the upcoming fiscal  year beginning July 1, according to Eckerd Kids, the agency contracted to run the system by the state.
  3. Bill Nelson knocks Rick Scott over Senate health bill


    Sen. Bill Nelson attacked Gov. Rick Scott, his likely 2018 rival, over today's trip to Washington.

  4. For starters: Rays at Pirates, with Hechavarria active, Robertson sent down


    UPDATE, 3:26: And the Rays indeed have Hechavarria at SS and Beckham at 2B. Also, with no DH Dickerson is in left.

    Rays lineup:
    Smith cf,
    Dickerson lf,
    Longoria 3b,
    Morrison 1b,
    Souza rf,
    Ramos c,
    Beckham 2b,
    Hechavarria ss,
    Cobb p

    And the …

    The stellar view from the press box at PNC Park.