But when she showed up at the various Houston strip clubs where she worked for years, managers turned her away several times a week, she told The Washington Post. The reason they gave: There were already “too many black girls” working that night, Nicholson alleges in a lawsuit she filed last week against her former employers.
“I can put on makeup. I can comb my hair. I can look as pretty as you want to. I can act as sophisticated as you need me to, but I cannot scrub my skin off,” she said in an interview with The Post. “I’m a Black girl and I can’t help that.”
Nicholson filed the civil rights lawsuit under an 1866 federal law that gives everyone the same ability “enjoyed by white citizens” to make and enforce contracts. The defendants in her lawsuit are Ali and Hassan Davari, two brothers who own a string of clubs where Nicholson claims she regularly experienced racial discrimination throughout the six years she worked as a dancer: Cover Girls Houston, Solid Platinum Cabaret, Centerfolds Houston and Splendor Gentlemen’s Club.
Nicholson is also alleging she was not hired at Centerfolds and Splendor this summer as she sought to “revive her career as an entertainer.” The decision, she alleges, was based on race.
Nicholson seeks to recoup past wages she would have made had she been allowed to work her regularly scheduled shifts, plus those she would have earned in the future if she would have been rehired.
Casey Wallace, a lawyer representing the Davari brothers, challenged several of Nicholson’s claims. First, he said, the brothers have not owned Solid Platinum Cabaret in more than a decade, well before Nicholson worked there. That club, the lawsuit states, is now permanently closed.
Many Black dancers and staff members work at several of the Davaris’ 11 entertainment venues in Houston and Las Vegas, according to Wallace, who added that none use any sort of race-based quota system. The Davari brothers have suffered discrimination as Iranian-Americans, he said, and would never subject someone to what they have had to endure.
“We find that type of allegation abhorrent and, quite frankly, offensive,” Wallace told The Post.
Nicholson, the mother of two young children, said she worked at various strip clubs from the age of 18 to 24, including at least three owned by the Davari brothers. Her suit covers a three-month period in 2017 when Nicholson said she worked at Cover Girls.
But the racism the dancer experienced over those three months was commonplace at the other clubs where she claims to have worked for years, Nicholson’s lawyer, Eric Mirabel, said in an interview. Those allegations are not included in the lawsuit, Mirabel added, as most of that work history fell outside the four-year window the law allows for someone to file suit.
Nicholson said that every time she arrived at work, she steeled herself for the possibility that the managers would turn her away. To avoid that, Nicholson said, she tried to “whitewash” her appearance and behavior to make herself more appealing to her bosses. She spoke in a higher tone — “a proper girl voice” — and stood just so.
“I couldn’t just be myself,” she said. “I had to be extremely, over-the-top preppy.”
It would be one thing if the managers took issue with something like her hairstyle, outfit or jewelry, she said. She could change that on the spot or before future shifts. But their problem, Nicholson said, was with something she had no control over.
So she did the only thing she could: walked away and hoped she would be able to work the next shift. But it hurt, she said.
“To tell me I can’t work in here because I’m too Black,” she said, choking up. “It’s not a good feeling.”
Working in such a “toxic” environment caused Nicholson to suffer depression and anxiety, she said, adding that she did not realize how much it had affected her until she left.
Still, she tried to get a job at Centerfolds this summer but was rejected, even though she said she was better looking and more put together than White women who got jobs.
“I’m not saying I’m the most beautiful thing on this earth but … to watch somebody who barely has teeth in their mouth get a job over me, it’s like spit in the face,” she said.
Filing the lawsuit forced her to relive the depression and anxiety she felt four years ago while working at the Davari clubs, she said, but it’s worth it. After the Houston Chronicle published an article about Nicholson’s lawsuit, many former co-workers reached out to say they were shocked she had gone through with the case but that they supported her. Nicholson said she could count about 20 past colleagues — Black women who suffered the same discrimination she did — who could join her class-action lawsuit.
“It’s not okay that they’re able to do this to so many women for so long and no one says anything,” she said. “I felt like it’s time to do something about it. It’s empowering.”