Hulu’s ‘Welcome to Chippendales’ follows what, at first glance, looks like the success story of an immigrant who braved all odds to live the American dream. Steve Banerjee starts from the bottom and successfully carves a place for his business with an idea that hadn’t been explored or exploited before. He starts a strip club for women, reversing the usual formula that was previously only served to men.
Being a person of color and starting a business that looks a lot in favor of the exploration of female sexuality, one would expect that Steve Banerjee was a very open-minded person. Soon, however, it turns out that everything for him is business. If it’s not profitable, he won’t do it, and he applies this rule to Chippendales in the strangest of ways. In the fifth episode, he is sued for running a racially discriminatory establishment. If you are curious about what this lawsuit entailed and what Steve had to pay for it, then here’s what you need to know.
Who Sued Chippendales for Racial Discrimination?
In the fourth episode of ‘Welcome to Chippendales’, a scene depicts two people being stopped from entering Chippendales due to the lack of membership cards. In real life, too, Steve Banerjee installed a practice where people, specifically black people, faced discrimination and were not allowed to enter the nightclub. Commenting on this, Natalia Petrzel, a historian who researched Chippendales and did a podcast on it, told LA Magazine, “Banerjee wanted a classy club, and for him, classy meant white. It’s important to realize how deliberately this was constructed as a white space in a city that is extraordinarily diverse. What Chippendales was creating was a new masculine ideal, which was white, really buff, and clean cut.”
While Steve Banerjee tried to profit from this image, it was a UCLA law student, Don Gibson, who exposed and took him to a court of law to answer for his racism. Per LA Times, Gibson said, “I was asked to show a membership card and my friends were asked to show their driver’s license.” The first two times, he was turned away because he didn’t have the membership card. The third time, he brought his two white friends along to check if the same thing would happen to them. Turns out, they were allowed to walk right in, while once again, Gibson, who was black, was not allowed to enter. When he asked around about it, he discovered that more black students had witnessed this.
In addition to the UCLA students, a 37-year-old black woman, Stephanie Smith, also revealed that she was not allowed to enter Chippendales when she was with her husband. In contrast, when she was with her girlfriends, she was not turned away. Chippendales defended its stand while settling the lawsuit, saying that no form of discrimination was practiced within its premises. Lawyer Bruce Nahin, calling the denied entry to black people “isolated incidents”, asserted that 14% of the establishment’s workforce was black people. However, it was pointed out that out of the 130 employees in Chippendales in California, only six were black.
What did Steve Banerjee Pay in the Racial Discrimination Lawsuit?
Steve Banerjee had always been reproachful (to say the least) of the people who ever pointed the finger at his business or tried to sabotage it in any way. Gibson’s lawsuit did the same. Reportedly, Banerjee tried to settle it in his way. It is believed that he may have put out a hit on Gibson and also resorted to cooking up all sorts of stories as excuses for not letting black people inside Chippendales. Eventually, however, he had to throw in the towel and settle because taking things to trial, which would make it a class action lawsuit, would be too hefty a cost for him to bear.
With his lawyer admitting that they would “much rather spend money in the black community” than fight the lawsuit, Banerjee agreed to “an affirmative action program”. According to it, 25% of new employees in Chippendales would be black while also revoking any restrictions that had previously been placed on black people entering the establishment. A total of $85,000 was to be paid (not exceeding $250 per person) to people who came forward with proof that they were not allowed in Chippendales because of racial discrimination. Additionally, a total of $500,000, considered “a substantial amount for the club” by the Chippendales lawyer, was to be invested in businesses owned by black people.