Lawyers Cry Crocodile Tears, While Their Clients Dance On
Michigan U.S. District Judge Stephen Murphy heard a dozen or so wage-per-hour cases to get at the burning fundamental issue of the strip club business: Should strippers be classified as independent contractors or employees?
He decided to grant preliminary approval for a $6.5 million settlement in lawsuits against 64 of the 132 strip clubs owned by Déjà Vu Consulting Inc. nationwide. Chris Kudialis reports for the Las Vegas Sun that the winning Jane Doe plaintiffs might make off with “cash or up to $2,000 in club credits.” Kudialis doesn’t mention what the exchange rate might be between club credits and the U.S. dollar outside the four walls of Déjà Vu properties.
Dancers have won these sorts of lawsuits before. In fact, writes Kudialis, “the Nevada Supreme Court ruled in 2014 that clubs were not exempt from provisions of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, and that employees were entitled to federal minimum wage. The final ruling came more than five years after dancers from Sapphire Las Vegas Gentleman’s Club sued the valley’s largest strip club in 2009.”
However, Senate Bill 224, signed into law by Gov. Brian Sandoval, allows for “just about anyone” in Nevada to be classified as an independent contractor. Mick Rusing says, “Under no stretch of the imagination are these women independent contractors.”
That is just plain nonsense. Does this sound like an wage employee describing their work? “The fear, every shift I work,” writes Sarah Brey in her book Top Down: My Experiences in Strip Clubs North to South & East to West, “that I have to make money, that I have to be good enough to compete with the other girls, that I have to be able to show skills enough to be worthy of being chosen to give money to, is a task I enjoy having to live up to in some way.”
Ms. Brey was required to pay a house fee to the club to work and was required to relinquish some of her tips to the house mom, disc jockey, and club bouncers. in each club as she danced her way through South Carolina, Georgia, New Orleans, Tucson, and finally Vegas. In most cases she danced just one shift and left town. The clubs wanted a picture of her ID, a manager would take a look at her without a dress on, and she’d be hired on the spot.
House fees and what she had to tip out varied by club. The point is, she was the one doing the paying. After making “$400, $600, even $1000 on good nights,” in New Jersey, Brey managed to “be passing through towns, and pulling in $200/$300 on day shifts…” These were generally six hour shifts. So, doing the math, minimum wage wouldn’t seem to be an issue. Brey was more interested in finding the right yoga classes than working a lot.
When she made it to Las Vegas, Brey learned city government sticks its hand in her G-string before any dancing happens. A Sheriff’s Card and Entertainer’s License must be obtained and an independent contractor agreement is signed with the club.
“They’re a hard demographic to represent,” lawyer Leon Greenberg told Allie Conti of vice.com. “The girls who are into it are making a lot of money, so it’s easy to say, ‘Oh, we’re getting $500 or $1,000 or a couple of thousand dollars for a day or night’s work.’ Even though these girls are taking a lot of abuse and not getting the legal protection they clearly deserve, they’re afraid to rock the boat.”
After more than a decade of suing and winning money from the clubs, Las Vegas dancers haven’t seen “an iota of change” in how they’re compensated, attorney Rusing told the Sun. “It’s just really unfair,” he said.
While the girls keep making money, something tells me “it’s not fair” because their attorney hasn’t collected.