Strippers Sue to Be Classified as Employees @ King of Diamonds (Inver Grove, MN)
(June 09, 2009; Inver Grove, MN)
When it comes to wage-and-hour laws, strippers are no different from pizza delivery drivers or waitresses.
That’s what plaintiffs attorney E. Michelle Drake of Minneapolis-based Nichols Kaster claims in a wage-and-hour class action recently filed against a strip club in suburban Minneapolis. The suit claims that the King of Diamonds club is violating state and federal wage-and-hour laws by intentionally misclassifying entertainers as independent contractors and requiring them to pay fees — between $20 and $100 a night — to come to work, much as a hair salon charges a stylist for a chair.
The key difference, Drake noted, is that the stylist is considered an employee and gets a wage, whereas the dancer is forced to work only for tips and “pay for the pole.”
“This is a very cut and dry lawsuit. The job that my clients perform is unique and interesting — and maybe titillating to the general public — but the legal issues presented are very standard and weigh very strongly in my clients’ favor,” said Drake, who filed the case last week in federal court in Minneapolis. “Employees cannot be required to pay their employer to go to work under federal law … and employees can’t be forced to work for only tips anymore than a waitress can.”
Drake said that case law supports her argument — that adult entertainers are not independent contractors, but hourly employees, and should be treated as such.
In the 1990s, court and labor commission rulings in Alaska, California, Oregon and Texas all declared dancers to be employees. The most seminal case on the issue is Reich v. Priba, a 1995 federal case out of the Northern District of Texas, in which the court held that adult entertainers were misclassified as independent contractors.
Despite what the courts have held, though, Drake believes that the practice of misclassifying adult entertainers is still widespread in the world of exotic dancing, but the employees are too afraid to speak up.
By requiring the women to pay to come to work, and by refusing to pay them, managers “are taking advantage of the fact that women in this industry may be hesitant to assert their rights to wages,” she said.
Susan Kladek, owner of the King of Diamonds, was unavailable for comment. A manager at the club declined comment.
A response to the suit has not yet been filed in court.
The Minnesota lawsuit comes as a big surprise to California attorney James Quadra of San Francisco’s Moscone Emblidge & Quadra, who said he can’t understand why strip clubs haven’t yet learned their lesson about misclassifying exotic dancers. In 2007, in Doe v. Gold Club, a California state court lawsuit, he secured a $3.26 million settlement on behalf of exotic dancers who sued a nightclub called the Gold Club for misclassifying them, and for requiring them to pay a stage fee to work there.
And before that case, he noted, there was plenty of case law on the books to support exotic dancers’ rights.
“I am surprised that these clubs are not becoming more careful with how they treat the dancers, because they’re clearly controlling all aspects of their work, thus making them employees,” Quadra said.
On the other hand, Quadra added, he’s not so surprised.
“Having litigated against them, I’m not surprised because the money they can make by taking from the dancers a fee is such a large amount of money, that I can imagine they don’t want to reclassify them because it would cut into their profits,” Quadra said. “I think what we’re talking about here is greed.”
As for clubs thinking they can get away with misclassifying strippers, Quadra said, they better think again.
“They think, ‘ultimately, we can push them around and they won’t sue,’ ” Quadra said. “But they’re wrong.”
author: Tresa Baldas
The National Law Journal