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. Pasco delays Irma food distribution after problems elsewhere

    Local Government

    DADE CITY — Pasco County has pulled the plug on a planned Food for Florida distribution at the Land O'Lakes Recreation Center that had been scheduled to open to the public on Sunday.

    Pasco County has postponed a planned Food for Florida distribution at the Land O' Lakes Recreation Center on Collier Parkway and is seeking an alternative site. Last week, commissioners said they feared a repeat of the long lines of traffic that appeared outside Plant City Stadium on Oct. 9. The nutrition program for people affected by Hurricane Irma had been scheduled to come to Land O' Lakes Oct. 18 to 27.  [LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times]
  2. Editorial: UF can set example for free speech


    White nationalist Richard Spencer is bringing his racist message Thursday to the University of Florida in a legitimate, if utterly repugnant, display of the First Amendment at work. As a public university, UF has little choice but to allow Spencer's speech to take place. Now the university and the broader community has …

    By responding with peaceful protests and refusing to be provoked into violence, UF and the Gainesville community can provide a powerful repudiation of Richard Spencer’s hateful message.
  3. Percussionist rocks out with a blazing triangle solo during Florida Orchestra performance (w/video)


    Oh, the poor triangle. It's the orchestra equivalent of a rock band's tamborine, and such easy fodder for jokes.

    John Shaw performs a triangle solo.
  4. Amazon expands in Tampa with Pop-Up shop in International Plaza


    TAMPA — A new retailer known largely for its online presence has popped up at International Plaza and Bay Street.

    Shoppers walk past the new Amazon kiosk Tuesday at the International Plaza in Tampa. The kiosk, which opened last month, offers shoppers an opportunity to touch and play with some of the products that Amazon offers.
[CHRIS URSO   |   Times]

  5. Andy Serkis' directing debut 'Breathe' is not so inspiring


    After such a revolutionary acting career, Andy Serkis should be expected to make an equally inventive directing debut. Breathe is anything but that.

    Clare Foy and Andrew Garfield star in Breathe as Robin and Diana Cavendish, an English polio victim and his devoted wife, who pioneered disability rights and wheelchairs with ventilators. [Imaginarium]