SEATTLE — A group of strippers sued Pierce County on Tuesday, saying they don’t want officials to release their business licenses – and their real identities – under a public records request.
The complaint was filed by two Jane Does in U.S. District Court in Tacoma on Tuesday on behalf of about 70 dancers and managers at a strip club called Dreamgirls at Fox’s, as well as any former dancers. It says the Pierce County Auditor’s Office has received a public records request from a man wanting copies of adult entertainment licenses on file for the establishment.
Gilbert H. Levy, an attorney for the dancers, acknowledged that the information can be released under the state Public Records Act, but he says the entertainers have free-speech, privacy and safety interests in keeping the licenses and their true identities confidential.
“It’s a unique occupation and it’s a controversial occupation,” Levy said. “Some people like nude dancers, and other people for religious or for other philosophical reasons don’t. There’s some stigma attached to the occupation, and most dancers for personal privacy reasons and safety reasons, don’t want the customers to know who they are outside of the club.”
Pierce County Auditor Julie Anderson said she had not seen the lawsuit, but that absent a court order, her office planned to release the information to the requester next week.
“It’s not our job and should not be our role to interpret what the requester’s intentions might be,” Anderson said.
The man who requested the licenses, David A. Van Vleet, was out of state Tuesday and could not immediately be reached for comment, his father told The Associated Press.
Anderson said that after determining the licenses were public under state law, her office notified the license-holders that the information was about to be released, which prompted the lawsuit.
Most cities and counties in the state require special licenses for dancers and managers at strip clubs, Levy said.
This isn’t the first time Pierce County strippers have fought to keep their information private.
Last year a man named Robert Hill requested hundreds of documents about local dancers. Hill, who was in jail at the time of the request, claimed he was legally entitled to know what the dancers look like and potentially where they live.
“The very fact that you know somebody has requested this information if terrifying in and of itself,” said David Ward, a women’s rights attorney.
He said a loss of privacy — even through public records — has a chilling effect, and said it could lead to stalking or worse.
“There’s no way to know when it’s going to happen and there’s no way to know when it’s stopped,” Ward said.