- Chris Joyner The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
A former exotic dancer has dropped a racketeering lawsuit against her former club, The Cheetah in midtown Atlanta, a move the club’s attorney says undermines her claims that the club fostered an atmosphere of sexual violence against its dancers.
Cheetah attorney Kevin Ward called the lawsuit, filed in February in federal court, “nonsense and unsupportable, both under the law and based on the actual facts and not the rumor mill.”
The former stripper, Alison Valente, said she withdrew the case on the advice of her attorney as a strategic move. Valente said two other lawsuits against the club remain, incorporating many of the same claims, and halting the racketeering lawsuit was done to concentrate on her other claims.
“It was kind of a strategic thing that my … attorney was doing,” Valente said, adding that she could opt to bring the lawsuit back later.
Valente is a plaintiff in a labor lawsuit claiming gender discrimination and another suit alleging that the club violated federal labor laws by classifying her and other strippers as “contractors” and not employees. In her gender-discrimination suit, Valente alleges the Cheetah operated as a “sophisticated organized crime syndicate” where managers known as “floormen” sold “sex and drugs” at the club.
Ward and other attorneys for The Cheetah have painted Valente and other plaintiffs as disgruntled employees seeking a payoff from a strip club with an otherwise good reputation.
An Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Channel 2 Action News joint investigation into the claims of Valente and other dancers detailed widespread allegations of abusive behavior against dancers at the club, allegations the club’s attorneys have denied.
Former Cheetah dancers interviewed said they were secretly drugged, groped, assaulted, and in one case, raped in the club’s private VIP rooms. Dancers said club employees turned a blind eye to the behavior and floormen often took an active hand in leading patrons to believe they could expect sex from dancers in the rooms.
Attorneys for the Cheetah, a landmark in a city known for its strip clubs, have defended the club as safe for dancers, while at the same time characterizing the plaintiffs as “vindictive, discharged strippers, some of whom may well have been fired for engaging in the very same misconduct that they claim was tolerated by management.”
During the AJC/Channel 2 investigation, the club made changes to its VIP rooms, including removing doors to make them less private, and changed its policies that allowed dancers to tip security staff for private bookings. Lawyers for the club said those changes were unrelated to the former dancers’ claims.
Ward said he believes Valente filed the racketeering suit to “cause more pain for the club” in an attempt to “enhance” her labor-based suits. Under oath, the former dancers’ stories aren’t holding up, he said.
“A number of alleged victims, when placed under oath, have not told the same story that they told (Valente),” he said. “We are very confident that (the lawsuit) is largely disproven.”
“That’s not been my experience at all,” Valente said.
Many of the filings in the lawsuits are sealed by mutual agreement.
“Things are going well,” Valente said. “That’s all I can say.”