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Advocate staff photo by MATTHEW HINTON -- The City Planning Commission will consider new suggestions to regulate Bourbon Street strip clubs at its meeting Tuesday. 

Matthew Hinton

Three strip club dancers in New Orleans and Baton Rouge are suing to halt a statewide ban against strippers younger than 21, saying the ban infringes on their constitutional right to free speech, due process and equal protection.

The lawsuit was filed in New Orleans federal court on Thursday, about a week ahead of the ban’s effective date of Oct. 1.

The erotic dancers, who are not named in the suit, are suing Louisiana Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control Commissioner Juana Marine-Lombard, whose office is charged with enforcing the ban.

A hearing date has not been set.

The New Orleans City Council passed a ban in January that applied only to new dancers under 21, meaning those aged 18 to 20 already dancing at such clubs could continue working. However, the Legislature passed a statewide ban this spring that trumped the local one and had no such grandfather clause.

Whether to further restrict strip clubs and their dancers has been debated for years, but the argument flared up again in 2015 after a 19-year-old dancer was left for dead on Interstate 10 in Metairie by a man investigators said was her pimp. The man has been charged with second-degree murder in that case.

The ATC and State Police last fall penalized several New Orleans strip clubs they accused of being magnets for drugs and prostitution, and proponents of the statewide ban said it would help prevent trafficking of young women.

The New Orleans City Council also will soon consider whether to cap the number of Bourbon Street strip clubs at the present level and try eventually to reduce them to as few as seven, about half the current total.

The dancers filing the suit want the federal court to temporarily block the statewide ban and eventually overturn it permanently.

The suit says the dancers have a right to express themselves through erotic dance under the state and federal constitutions.

Also, it says, the ban is too broad and as written would apply to live theater performances and other instances, not just strip clubs. It’s also unconstitutionally vague because it fails to clarify its ban on “exposure” of the breasts or buttocks, the suit says.

Further, the dancers say, the state law discriminates against them solely on the basis of their age, which they say is not rational, as “there is no evidence that the act’s age restrictions will have any impact on human trafficking.” The ban also discriminates based on gender because it applies only to women who perform topless, not to men, according to the suit.

The suit explores at some length the impact it says such a law will have on the dancers’ livelihoods.

Jane Doe I, a 20-year-old dancer from New Orleans, had to work up to 120 hours per week in retail jobs to help pay her bills and care for her disabled mother before she began stripping, according to the suit filed by attorney Harry Rosenberg. It says she now strips and can set her own work schedule.

Another plaintiff, an unnamed 18-year-old from Baton Rouge, lives on her own after both her parents died of cancer, the suit says. Because of the ban, which the suit says took effect at her club in August, she now works as a “shot girl” — a server who walks through a club offering drinks. But her income has been cut by more than half since she stopped stripping, it says. 

The third former dancer, a 19-year-old New Orleanian, used the money she made stripping to care for her 1-year-old daughter, the suit says. 

The plaintiffs know other dancers who have been approached by pimps or who are considering prostitution to make up for the income they are losing as a result of the ban, the suit says. 

A response to the suit is due by Nov. 22.

Read the suit, below:

Follow Jessica Williams on Twitter, @jwilliamsNOLA​.