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.