The working conditions for exotic dancers are often hidden from the public view. However, a lawsuit filed by local dancers is bringing to light the struggles they have with strip club owners in trying to get a fair day's pay for a fair day's work.
In May, a number of dancers filed a lawsuit against the strip club, Club Cabaret, in Creve Coeur. The suit alleges the dancers are not being paid the required minimum wage, and are also required to pay out a “stage fee” to club owners, in order to dance on stage. The club considers the dancers to be independent contractors; however, the lawsuit contends the dancers are employees because the club controls all aspects of the working environment.
Beth Pitzer is a dancer and party to the lawsuit who has worked in the industry for almost a decade. In an article in the Peoria Journal Star, Pitzer claims Club Cabaret owners and management, “wanted to control us.” This includes fines for breaking house rules, mandating what the dancers can wear, when they can work, and how much to charge for dances.
As independent contractors, many exotic dancers are often paid only in tips, which could amount to very little after paying stage fees, and tipping out bouncers and DJs. They may also receive no benefits, health insurance, or paid time off. Club owners may receive the dancer's stage fees, but do not have to pay for any benefits for dancers, and do not have to contribute to unemployment insurance, medicare or social security.
Sam Zabek, who is representing Club Cabaret, says the dozen women in the lawsuit “don't want to be employees. They don't want to have withholding and file income taxes. They don't want to be ordered to come in at a certain time.” Instead, Zabek says, “This is about the plaintiff's attorney running the ship.”
In the latest developments in the case, the dancers are now alleging intimidation at work as a result of filing the unpaid wages lawsuit. The federal judge in the case, U.S. Magistrate Judge Jonathan Hawley, has ordered the Creve Coeur strip club owners to stop trying to encourage dancers to back out of the lawsuit. As the lawsuit moves forward, it may eventually lead to a class action lawsuit, with the potential to be joined by more former-dancers seeking unpaid wages.
Paul Lukas, an attorney for the dancers says that these type of lawsuits are becoming more common. In the last year, dancers have brought lawsuits against strip clubs in Florida, Arizona, Georgia, as well as Las Vegas. According to Lukas, “The industry is being sued and hopefully they will change their ways. They have been very stubborn about it.”
An article in The Atlantic has called strippers “organized labor's newest heroes.” In 2012, dancers with the strip club chain Spearmint Rhino won a $13 million settlement in Federal court in a class action lawsuit that sought unpaid wages and disputed their status as “independent contractors.” As a result of the lawsuit, the club was prohibited from charging dancers “house fees” for the right to work. The Scarlett's Cabaret strip club chain in Florida settled a similar lawsuit for $6 million. A New York club also settled a similar unpaid wages lawsuit for $15 million.
If you or someone you know is not being treated fairly by their employer, or if they have been improperly classified as an independent contractor to avoid fair compensation, you should speak with an experienced attorney who understands employment law cases. At Benassi & Benassi, we are committed to getting our clients the justice they deserve and get equal pay and equal treatment under the law.