Omaha strip club owner goes back to court, sues over protest with scantily clad workers
LINCOLN — Facing a new city ordinance that bans nude dancing at bottle clubs, the owner of an Omaha establishment has filed another lawsuit, accusing state and Omaha city officials of unconstitutionally conspiring to close his nightclub.
But Shane Harrington, owner of Club Omaha, maintained Wednesday that he’s already one step ahead of new state and local laws that regulate bottle clubs — he quit allowing liquor in his establishment almost a month ago, and is no longer a “bottle club.”
“You can drink out in the parking lot if you choose to,” Harrington said. “Nobody understands, people come in for the nude dancing. They can drink anywhere.”
The nightclub owner said he’s still pursuing legal action, and seeking $15 million in damages, because the lack of alcohol consumption has reduced his business by 15 percent to 20 percent, and to show that state and local officials are violating his constitutional rights.
In a 57-page lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court on Monday, Harrington accuses state and local officials of conspiring against his members-only club because it allows nude dancing.
He also claimed that Omaha police denied his right to free speech by disrupting a July 21 protest by him and female dancers at 72nd and Dodge Streets, one of Omaha’s busiest intersections. The four female employees, according to the lawsuit, “were scantily clad wearing underwear and nipple pasties.” They held signs asking motorists to honk if they liked female breasts.
The lawsuit is the latest in a string of legal actions taken by Harrington in response to attempts to regulate his strip clubs, which, at one time, included outlets in Grand Island and Hastings and along Interstate 80 near Kearney.
A month ago, Lancaster County District Court Judge Susan Strong dismissed a lawsuit filed in state court by Harrington, ruling that the state has broad power to regulate establishments where liquor is sold or consumed.
The new lawsuit names Strong as a defendant, along with Gov. Pete Ricketts, two state legislators, Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert, other state officials and every member of the Omaha Police Department and Nebraska State Patrol.
Harrington alleges that because he provides “adult entertainment” — nude dancers — state lawmakers passed a new state bottle club law this spring.
“Harrington has been designated public enemy No. 1,” his lawsuit states.
On Tuesday, the Omaha City Council gave final approval to an update to its liquor code to reflect the passage of the bottle club bill by the Legislature.
Omaha City Attorney Paul Kratz said the city ordinance, which takes effect in 15 days, bans bottle clubs from providing nude entertainment, just as it already bans it at licensed liquor outlets.
Kratz added that all actions taken by the city and police have been “appropriate and legal.”
A spokesman for Ricketts said the governor does not comment on pending litigation. Earlier this year, in signing the bottle club bill, Ricketts described the new law as reasonable regulation.
In his lawsuit, Harrington asks a federal judge to block implementation of the new state law and the Omaha city ordinance, and eventually rule both unconstitutional.
“I will not give up my right to own and operate my own business in Nebraska, and I won’t let the government and the police continue to violate my civil rights,” Harrington said. He said that if he wins the lawsuit, he may seek to allow alcohol again but said people primarily come to his club to see the dancers and his DJ.
Club Omaha opened in 2017. It does not sell alcohol, but had allowed dues-paying members of the club to bring in their own liquor. Because Harrington did not sell alcohol, he could provide nude dancing.
This spring, the Legislature, at the urging of the Nebraska Liquor Control Commission, passed a law requiring bottle clubs to obtain a state license, similar to those required of bars and taverns. Harrington said he stopped allowing alcohol in his club on July 19, when the new state law went into effect.
State liquor officials and lawmakers had expressed concern that without such oversight, bottle clubs might serve minors and overserve other customers.
Harrington has long maintained that members came to his club to watch dancers, not to get drunk or rowdy.
“Club Omaha poses no safety risk and constitutes the safest place for adult Nebraskans to congregate for the express purpose of viewing live entertainment,” Harrington’s lawsuit stated.