The litigants include Sara Underwood, of Oregon, the 2007 Playmate of the Year, who has over 5 million social media followers; Mercedes Terrell, of Nevada, one of the better known “ring girls” for Bellator MMA fighting; and Irina Voronina, of California, Playboy’s Miss January 2001, who also has millions of followers and has done promotions for SKYY Vodka, Miller Lite, Michelob Ultra and Bacardi. Voronina’s screen credits include appearances in Nickelodeon’s “iCarly,” “Reno 911!” and “Reno 911!: The movie.”
Jessica Burciaga, a model based in Atlanta, runs her own online swimwear company, www.SailorandSaint.com. She says images from her business were misappropriated in Chicas ads. The February 2009 Playmate of the Month appeared as herself in several episodes of the reality series, “The Girls Next Door.”
The club owner, Robert B. Harrison Jr., did not respond immediately to a request for comment.
Dennis Postiglione, who represents the women, said repurposing of images from catalogs is fairly commonplace. His Austin firm has won or settled several similar cases around the country under the Lanham Act, on charges that a strip club was engaging in false endorsements or advertising. The Casas Law Firm, P.C. has also successfully brought claims against plastic surgeons and dentists who lifted models’ images without permission, he said.
But when a strip club does it, the damages to a person’s reputation are worse, he said. He noted that three of the women make at least seven-figure incomes.
“This happens all over the country and our clients are very serious about getting it shut down and being compensated for the use of the image,” he said.
Postiglione said many of the women whose ads get repurposed for strip clubs began their careers posing for party store catalogs in sexy nurse or devil Halloween costumes.
The women who sued in Houston say they’re well-known professionals who make their livelihood by modeling and selling their identity, image and likeness to companies for advertising, endorsements or promotions.
Their lawyers say they are “internationally known for gracing the covers of countless mainstream publications in addition to having careers in television and film” and “easily identifiable at a glance.” They allege Chicas, which bills itself on social media as the “#1 nude club in Texas” gained a benefit from unauthorized use of the women’s images.
Others involved in the lawsuit are California-based models Jessica “Jesse” Golden and Rosa Acosta, and Brooke Marrin, who also uses the name Brooke Banx, who is from Texas.
According to court documents, Terrell has appeared on the cover of Wheels and Heels magazine, Dub Magazine, Beer magazine and Girls Lowrider. Her image in a red devil costume and red thigh-high boots was used to promote a Halloween event at the strip club.
Also appearing without permission on a Chicas Halloween ad was Golden, who lawyers say is a supermodel and certified yoga teacher, with her own line and products, who worked for Abercrombie & Fitch, Victoria’s Secret, Coca-Cola, Gap and Nike and has appeared in the New York Times, Fitness and Yoga International.
Underwood’s work includes the films “The House Bunny” and “Miss March” and episodes of reality TV series “Kendra,” “The Girls Next Door” and “Bridget’s Sexiest Beaches.” She has been an announcer for the Blackbelt TV cable network and co-hosted G4’s “Attack of the Show.” Underwood is shown in a Chicas Halloween flier wearing a military style half shirt.
In addition to Playboy, Voronina has appeared in Maxim, Ocean, Shape, Knockout, the Australian edition of People. In 2008, she was named St. Pauli Girl spokesmodel and rang the closing bell at the New York Stock Exchange. Other parts include “Balls of Fury” “Piranha 3DD,” “Laser Team” and “Killing Hasselhoff.” Voronina appeared in a Chicas Halloween ad in pirate costume.
Burciaga, originally from Orange County, Calif., was a ring girl in a videogame by EA Sports Fight Night Round 3. She has appeared in Maxim, Import Tuner, Modified Mag, Performance Auto & Sound, Show Latina and Lowrider Magazine.
Lawyers say Banx is shown in a Chicas ad dated Feb. 26, 2020, for the club’s “2020 Houston Rodeo” event. She has been featured in FHM, www.savvy.com and America Curves magazine. She recently completed a biology degree and is attending medical school.
Acosta, a performer with national ballet in the Dominican Republic, went on to model for magazines and television in Dominican Republic and the U.S.