In a recent summary judgment, a New York court ruled that some 2,000 exotic dancers from a Manhattan strip club will be awarded roughly $10.9 million in lost wages. U.S. District Judge Paul Englemayer ruled that the women working at Rick’s Cabaret were employees and not independent contractors, according to Reuters.
The unpaid wages and garnished gratuities cover the years 2005-12, and represent a lawsuit which is four years in the making. The women were not paid an hourly wage or salaries. They instead paid the club a small fee to be allowed to perform there and took home only tips. Engelmayer ruled that the women were not given the freedoms necessary during their employment to be considered contractors at the club.
According to CNN, Rick’s Cabaret argued that the women made more than minimum wage in tips, but as the judge ruled, gratuities cannot be considered in lieu of an hourly wage or salary. The company said that to not offset wage requirements with the gratuities received by the dancers was “fundamentally flawed.” A company spokesperson added that the company is not obligated to pay until after the trial, at which time Rick’s Cabaret plans to seek an appeal.
The judge said that the dancers were owed for garnished wages from what Rick’s referred to as “Dancer Dollars.” Patrons received vouchers of $24 dollars to be spent on personal dances, only $18 of which went back to the women, despite their normal fee of $20 per personal dance. Rick’s, says Engelmayer, owes the women $2 for every voucher the club received.
The award is not quite the $18.8 million the women sought, but further compensation of wages could be awarded in a later jury trial ruling at a date yet to be determined by the court order. Rick’s plans to appeal after the trial, but the dancers’ lawyer, E. Michelle Drake, says the women are confident they will win. According to Drake, despite the $20 fee for personal dances and a $100 fee for private dances, after tipping other club workers and deejays, the women often left work in the red. She said the women look forward to a trial.
A similar lawsuit in the Nevada Supreme Court saw similar results. Dancers at the topless Sapphire Gentlemen’s Club on the Las Vegas strip filed a class-action lawsuit in 2009, arguing that they should be paid hourly wages as employees. The courts ruled in their favor, adding that the establishment boasted itself as the “World’s Largest Strip Club,” suggesting that unlike the “World’s Biggest Sports Bar,” dancers were clearly an integral fixture within the establishment and should therefore be paid as such.
The high court ruled that the women should be awarded an hourly wage for the time they were employed by the club, and should also be returned any house fees they were stripped of to perform there. The women’s attorney, Mick Rusing said the ruling could affect some 6,500 current and former performers of the club, dating as far back as 2006. According to Rusing, the dancers would be entitled to $40 million, as well as house fees.
By Sree Aatmaa Khalsa