In a win for Louisiana’s adult entertainment industry, a federal judge has ruled that Louisiana cannot enforce a new law banning strip club performers younger than 21 until the courts have ruled on a challenge to the statute brought by a group of dancers. 

Meanwhile, the official now barred from enforcing the law, Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control Commissioner Juana Marine-Lombard, is seeking to unmask the identity of the three dancers who sued to get the law struck down.

The plaintiffs are not named in the suit and have said that if forced to reveal themselves, they would likely drop the suit. Marine-Lombard says the public has a right to know who they are. 

State lawmakers voted to impose the ban on dancers aged 18 to 20 earlier this year. The ATC office planned to enforce the law beginning Oct. 1 in New Orleans; it went into effect Aug. 1 elsewhere in the state.

However, that restriction and an earlier ban on hiring new dancers younger than 21 passed by the New Orleans City Council drew opposition from some club owners and dancers, who said the state and city shouldn't try to legislate morality and that there is no evidence the clubs cause crime.

The ban won praise from those who said stripping can be a gateway to prostitution and human trafficking. 

The dancers' lawsuit, filed in September, was the first legal challenge to the statewide ban, which trumped the less sweeping one in New Orleans.

Three dancers from New Orleans and Baton Rouge filed the suit claiming the state law robs them of their right to express themselves, a violation of the state and federal constitutions.

They also said the ban is too broad and discriminates against dancers based on gender and age. Further, the dancers said there’s no evidence the new restrictions will have any impact on human trafficking, even though the state lawmaker who introduced it, Sen. Ronnie Johns, R-Lake Charles, said it was “strictly an anti-human trafficking bill.”

All three dancers said the ban would hurt them financially. Two dancers said their income already had been sliced by at least half.

It was the financial setback that warranted a temporary block on the law, U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier ruled on Friday. Because the ban would cause “irreparable injury” to the dancers in the form of lost income, while Marine-Lombard, in contrast, would suffer “minimal, if any harm” if she was temporarily blocked from enforcing the ban, Barbier halted all enforcement of the law.

Tim Spratt, vice president of Kirkendoll Management, which runs the Penthouse Clubs in New Orleans and Baton Rouge, said the ruling "provided these hard-working women with much-needed relief."

"We hope they are successful on a final ruling," he said.

Ann Kesler, the general manager for Larry Flynt’s Hustler Club, Deja Vu and Barely Legal in the French Quarter, said Tuesday that a few of the clubs' younger dancers, who were prepared to work only as waitresses starting this month, will now be able to continue dancing. The clubs had quit contracting with new dancers younger than 21 shortly after the City Council passed its ban, she said.

Covenant House Executive Director James Kelly, who lobbied state and local officials to get the bans passed, wasn't pleased with news of Barbier's ruling. 

"Am I disappointed? Of course. Am I sad? Yes," he said. But he added, "In the end, I’m hopeful and confident that the courts will see through the same lens we see through."

In a filing Friday, an attorney for Marine-Lombard asked the court to deny the three suing dancers’ request to remain anonymous, arguing that their alleged fear of being stigmatized should not outweigh the public’s right to know who they are.

“As stated in their own complaint, they are voluntarily choosing to engage in erotic dancing and do not feel stigma or embarrassment,” the filing said. “Since they chose to file this lawsuit in order to continue erotic dancing, they can proceed under their own names.”

In their request to remain incognito, the dancers said that if they are forced to reveal themselves, they will likely drop the suit. Going public could bring harassment or retaliation, they said, and keeping their identities under wraps hasn't prevented the public from scrutinizing their case. 

Follow Jessica Williams on Twitter, @jwilliamsNOLA​.