BALTIMORE (WJZ) -- A Baltimore strip club is suing the mayor and city council over the city's ban on adult entertainment during the COVID-19 pandemic.
While restaurants, bars and other entertainment venues have been able to reopen at limited capacity, strip clubs in the city remain closed.
Andrew Alley, the owner of The Penthouse Club in Baltimore, said he just wants his business to be treated fairly. The lawsuit argues the city is restricting the club's right to free speech based on the type of service it provides.
"From massage parlors to casinos, everything's open except us," Alley said, "so it been a real body blow to us, for obviously the business, but my staff is being crushed by this."
Strip clubs were shut down in an executive order from Mayor Brandon Scott in December. Alley said since then, they have tried to work with the city to no avail.
Some of his employees have left to work in other states due to the restrictions, he said.
"We're collateral damage, and we have to fight back at some point," Alley said.
The latest ease in restrictions has allowed more businesses to reopen at 25% capacity, including what the city calls "indoor recreational establishments." While bowling alleys and skating rinks were allowed to reopen, strip clubs were not.
The city has also loosened restrictions on live performances at other venues.
"They're singling out adult entertainment, and there's no rational basis to do so, and that makes it unconstitutional," Andrew Saller, managing partner at Saller, Lord, Ernstberger & Insley, said.
That's why TC Entertainment, which operates The Penthouse Club, is seeking an injunction in federal court against the ban, arguing it infringes on their free speech rights.
"We're demanding the city honor the First Amendment and allow adult entertainment, which is permissible First Amendment activity, to be given the same lack of restrictions that every form of entertainment is being given," Saller said.
Right now, The Penthouse Club is allowed to operate as a restaurant and bar, but the stage lights remain dark.
"It's like McDonald's opening and saying you can sell coffee, but you can't sell anything else," Alley said.
In a statement, the city said its law department is reviewing the suit.
"Baltimore will continue to make decisions guided by the public health data and will make assessments on a regular basis to determine when it is appropriate to ease restrictions," the statement reads.
A hearing in the case is scheduled for Friday. If a judge grants the motion, adult entertainment venues in the city would be able to resume under the same restrictions as other entertainment venues until a final judgment is made.
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