The Fruits of Her Labor
Pam Adair knows how to record the moment.
When she felt queasy on July 21 last year, she took a two-minute home pregnancy test and videotaped the stick as it turned blue.
"I wanted this child for fourteen months," she says. "I wanted him to be there every step of the way." During her pregnancy, Adair and her family regularly spoke into the lens of a video camera "as if it were the baby."
But some people didn't share Adair's enthusiasm for the newcomer--namely, her employer, All Stars Sports Cabaret.
Adair wasn't too overcome with the glow of pregnancy to realize that the company culture at a strip club might frown on a woman with a bulge in the belly. After all, the club sells sex, not its consequences. But since she wasn't a dancer--Adair tended bar there for a year and a half--she thought she was safe.
Female bartenders at All Stars wear tight black Lycra shorts and a black-and-white-striped referee blouse that ties at the cleavage; they are encouraged to dance around behind the bar to keep the atmosphere upbeat and sexy. Adair figured she could wear the full-sized jerseys that male employees wear when she began to show. She also planned to work the day shifts, when secondhand smoke was minimal and customers were sparse. She had made good friends there and enjoyed her well-paying job.
Most of all, she wanted her job back when she returned from maternity leave. "I love my money," she says.
But these notions were premature.
Adair knew the fate of other women who had told All Stars management they were carrying a child: They had been fired--or, worse, asked to have an abortion. So Adair thought way, way ahead.
Three days after learning of her pregnancy, Adair purposely asked Jeff Duncan, area director at All Stars, at 4255 South Santa Fe Drive, for a performance evaluation. Two of Adair's friends witnessed the stage-side conversation, and both say Duncan told Adair she was doing a great job. Duncan suggested she dance a little more, but other than that, he said, she was "perfect."
At 8 p.m. the same day, Adair's husband told Duncan the good news about his soon-to-be family. "He just wasn't the same Jeff since he found out I was pregnant," Adair claims.
Within a week, she was fired.
Adair says Duncan told her she was let go because her register came up $60 short one Saturday night. But Adair says she shared the register with another bartender that night, so it was impossible to prove who was at fault. The other bartender was not disciplined.
Adair believes she was fired because she was pregnant. So after her dismissal, she set out to prove that she was the latest victim in a pattern of discrimination at All Stars.
On August 7, four days after she was fired, Adair filed a complaint with the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies' Civil Rights Division. She told an investigator about other employees who were canned soon after they got pregnant.
A topless dancer named Kimberly was fired in March 1998, supposedly for touching her nipples on stage, which is considered to be a "dancing violation that could lead to liquor-law violations," according to All Stars records contained in the CRD complaint. But other dancers at the club say the claim was false. "She would never touch her breasts like that, not in the way they said she did," says Nicole, a dancer who left All Stars in April. Kimberly was pregnant, and "after that, everybody was afraid of getting pregnant or gaining weight," Nicole says.
Another dancer, Nina (her stage name), says Duncan befriended her the day she walked into the club in June 1998. "He told me what girls to watch, what girls to hang out with," says Nina, who is now twenty. "He even gave me my stage name. When I got pregnant, I went to him and asked him what I should do about it, and he said, 'I think it would be best if you got an abortion.' Then I did. And I felt like shit."
The next month, Nina got pregnant again with the same man, now her husband, and decided to quit rather than tell anyone at the club. When she returned to clean out her locker, word had spread about why she had left. "None of the management said anything to me, like I was diseased," says Nina. "They were real nice to me until I got pregnant. Then they turned into big assholes."
Duncan disputes Nina's version. "That's not true," he says. "Nina and I were never friends; I was her boss. Lots of women here get pregnant. We don't hold it against them. We move them to another place [in the bar] and let them work right up until they want to."
But that wasn't all Adair told the CRD. The same week she filed the complaint, one of her co-workers called Adair to beg her forgiveness because she had supported the club in the dispute.
Again, Adair was thinking ahead.
She tape-recorded the conversation, in which the sobbing waitress begins, "I'm calling to apologize...I got told to write that letter. I asked not to, but I was told [I had to]...I said I didn't want to, but they told me the letters weren't going anywhere so I didn't need to worry about it. So I thought, 'It's my choice.'" (Taping a two-way conversation, à la Linda Tripp, is legal in Colorado as long as one of the people knows the conversation is being recorded.)
When Adair asks the waitress who put her up to writing the bogus letter, the waitress says, "Jeff [Duncan] and the attorney."
The attorney, Michael Krieger, says, "That's a very strange comment," but he declines to comment further on the recordings or the case. As for the waitress, he says, "I don't even know who that would be."
Adds Duncan, "I did not fire Pam for being pregnant. I fired her for being a bad bartender."
The attempt failed to convince CRD director Jack Lang y Marquez, however, and so did the club's claims that Adair had a history of bad bartending. (Krieger had written that she poured foul drinks, skimmed tips from waitresses and had poor cash-handling skills.)
Lang y Marquez found that All Stars neglected to document any of Adair's alleged shortcomings during her employment, making their allegations suspicious. In addition, he wrote that some All Stars employees were "forced to sign affidavits for the Respondent [All Stars]."
With the help of CRD mediation, Adair and All Stars tried to settle the case without going to court, but the negotiations broke down over how much money Adair was entitled to. Adair hired attorney Evan Lipstein and announced her plans to take the case to court. (Lipstein also represents sixty employees of bankrupt NationsWay Transport, who are suing Colorado Rockies owner Jerry McMorris to recover more than $5 million in unpaid wages.)
In June, All Stars owner Troy Lowrie tried again to settle the case out of court, and again, Adair had her tape recorder on. In the taped conversation, Lowrie offers Adair $3,000 and her old job. "If you could come back and make us both a lot of money, that'd be great," he says.
But the offer skipped a reel of logic with Adair, who has since given birth to son Ashton and been forced to file for bankruptcy.
"Why would he hire me back if I was so horrible with cash?"
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