Strippers Have Rights. But Do They Want Them?

In courthouses across the country, lawyers are fighting for strippers' rights -- and winning. But dancers are worried the lawsuits will cut into their cash flow.

Strippers Have Rights. But Do They Want Them?
Eric Garcia

It's 9 on a Tuesday night, and Jaguars Dallas, a big, boxy strip club between Stemmons Freeway and Northwest Highway, is almost empty. The club doesn't have many neighbors, just a row of truck lots and vacant yards, plus one friendly rock 'n' roll strip joint called the Clubhouse. Jaguars is trying for something more sophisticated, from the oversized Roman-columned façade to the round tables ringing the stage, each topped with a crisp white tablecloth. A disco ball shines a blue light over the main room's cheetah-print carpet, illuminating thousands of stains, as a cheery blonde circulates among the few customers, handing out hugs, plopping down in laps to say hello.

A woman named Holly is sitting at the bar in the back. She's slugging a Corona and adjusting her black-framed glasses, which match her black bra, frilly tutu and determined expression. A tattoo, a simple line drawing of Texas, graces her ribcage, and the cups of her bra stand at some distance from her chest.

"I pay $30 just to work," she grouses. "That's if I get here at seven." Ten bucks go toward the standard house fee, she complains, 10 more to the house mom and 10 more to the DJ.

Holly is 22. She used to work at a bank. She liked that much better. But car problems, combined with the urgency of feeding a 15-month-old son, sent her searching for something more lucrative. The money here is decent, she says, but stripping doesn't come with a lot of fringe benefits. Her son's on Medicaid. She has no healthcare.

"If I fall off that pole, I'm on my own," she says, flinging a skinny arm toward the stage.

Ten minutes later she's on her back at the edge of the stage, a kittenish smile on her face. Her stiletto heels are balanced on the shoulders of a guy in a suit who's methodically tucking bills into her G-string. On a good night she leaves Jaguars with around $600 — not a bad haul but hardly a killing by Dallas strip club standards. When she worked at Cabaret Royale, an all-nude 18-and-over club, she often walked out with $1,000 or more.

While Holly collects her singles on the stage, a manager appears at the bar. "I understand you've been asking questions," he says. Being interviewed upset the girls, he says. He can't have people in here making them uncomfortable. A reporter's business card, handed to Holly moments before, appears in his hand; he snaps it between his fingers before it vanishes into a jacket pocket. "I'd like you to call it a night," he says, and folds his arms.

Technically, Holly isn't the manager's employee. She's an independent contractor, a sort of freelance lap-dance consultant. But to labor lawyers and the government, the relationship between strippers and their clubs looks an awful lot like employment: Dancers have some set shifts, are required to be on stage at certain times, have specific dress codes (one high-end Dallas club has a "no booty shorts" rule) and even pay "emergency" fees for leaving a shift early.

But classifying dancers like Holly as contractors allows the clubs, like the many businesses that make use of the practice (including newspapers) any number of benefits to their bottom lines. They don't pay overtime, minimum wage, worker's comp or payroll taxes. It's a system employed by virtually every strip club in Dallas and across the country, with a few notable exceptions. (San Francisco's Lusty Lady is the country's only union shop; only a small handful of states, including Illinois and Massachusetts, have clubs where dancers are classified as employees.)

It's been this way for decades. But the independent contractor system, at least for strip clubs, is suddenly taking heavy fire. Current and former strippers are filing class-action lawsuits against clubs, claiming that they have been improperly classified as independent contractors. The suits, which have been won by strippers in at least 10 states, ask for back pay and damages, with settlements that sometimes run into the millions of dollars. And a Dallas-based strip-club business may be next.

But dancers across Dallas, one of the biggest planets in the stripper universe, are skeptical that the lawsuits will affect their bottom lines for the better. They argue that the lawsuits will actually threaten their income stream while handing to lawyers a bonanza in fees — just another set of hands grasping at the glittery wads of cash jutting from their G-strings.

"Everyone sees sex workers as a cash cow," says Amanda Brooks, a former Dallas stripper who switched to escort work because she found it less stressful. (With all the fees and fines, Brooks says, she finished more than one shift owing the club cash.) "By the time the money reaches you, there are people trying to take their bit out of it of the entire route."


If you shelled out $20 for a lap dance in the 1990s, there's a good chance it was at Cabaret Royale. The club touted its brass chandeliers, oil paintings on the walls and $1,500 annual VIP memberships, presaging a host of local clubs that hoped to replace the industry's scuzzy image with something more elegant. These days, some customers complain that the club, located in the same glut of nude joints that line Northwest Highway and the surrounding area, is showing its age. But back then, Cabaret Royale was at the cutting edge of a new kind of live-nude entertainment.

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42 comments
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Tim Lebsack
Tim Lebsack

This problem is caused by the third party wanting to interfere in the private business between the club owners and the dancers.

RyanJ99
RyanJ99

@Tim Lebsack The problem is caused by club owners and managers who have skirted the law by encouraging and coercing drug use, prostitution, and money above all else.  They are reaping what they sow... most of these girls are not even 25 years old, come from broken homes, and have zero to slim protection from these wannabe pimps and thugs.  If the club owners were acting responsibly this would not be an issue.  Not to mention their actions violate employment law; independent contractors should be free to come and go when they please, whereas dancers are required to work 7-8 hour shifts and must get permission to leave and are scheduled to work certain days by management.  No more whoring out our precious asset, young females, for liquor sales and room charges, change the law now!  If these managers had to pay an hourly wage, they would be selective in who they hired instead of trying to make house fees off every girl that fills out an application, drug user, escort, or not.

Jessica
Jessica

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Crystal Evans
Crystal Evans

If they become employees, they would have to pay taxes on the salary that they are paid by the strip club owners. I wonder how many of them are paying taxes as independent contractors?

Xeginy
Xeginy

" "A lot of the girls I talk to at work don't care because we're the top earners," she says. "This could potentially hurt our group. It's only good for the low earners." "

Wow, really? So because you're part of the financially elite, you don't want anything to change, even though that change could benefit those who are poor? That's why there are such terrible problems with poverty in the US, because those who have money don't care.

RyanJ99
RyanJ99

@Xeginy This is an absurd comment, if the girls understood they would be getting free house fees, not required to tipout, and getting paid an hourly wage PLUS whatever they make in tips, they would be all for it.  Get educated about the issue.

Tsepmet1
Tsepmet1

No, it's because of you don't make money taking your clothes off for money, you shouldn't hurt the ones who do well.

Guest
Guest

why should they be punished for working hard? the system for them is the same. you hustle hard and you make money, you dont? you make less. there are always those who want to take the easy road and get paid the same. i see it everyday

Mysti Dancer
Mysti Dancer like.author.displayName 1 Like

no, i do not want strippers to get official employee rights, it would cause our income to be tracked and then what !! the current system has its flaws of course, but those flaws allow us to have the freedom we have as dancers. If i want i can go to blue cross and blue shield and get the best health insurance in the world, on my own without government intervention.

RyanJ99
RyanJ99

@Mysti Dancer if you really believe this honey, you need to sit down and think about this because you don't know what you are saying.

Sa
Sa

Uh huh. I hope that you're reporting all income earned to the IRS, and that your reported income matches what passes through your bank accounts. And your lifestyle should match your reported income. And you do file a tax return every year, right? The penalties for tax evasion - not reporting income - and not filing returns can be substantial.

RyanJ99
RyanJ99

@Sa Really? Thanks for the accounting advice, but if anyone takes financial advise on an internet comment page, they should be tar and feathered.  Stick to what you know, avoid preaching, and stop trolling.  

Larry in Laredo
Larry in Laredo

ahhhhhh, a stripper with a brain.........hmmmm, like a meth addict with a conscience? jus' sayin'.

Tsepmet1
Tsepmet1 like.author.displayName 1 Like

That just means that you don't have enough money for the smart ones toSit with you. ;)

Guest
Guest

"...that they have to give up their tips to the house, because that's the house's money"

And the next lawsuit that he loses will be for stealing tips in violation of federal labor law.

Sa
Sa

Interesting article. How in the world are the clubs getting away with classifying the waitresses, let alone the dancers, as independent contractors? I thought labor laws were pretty clear in respect to waiters & waitresses.

I suspect that the majority of dancers aren't aware to the tax writeoffs available to them. I would guess, though, that many of them have their own systems for maximizing their tips.

RyanJ99
RyanJ99

@Sa The get away with more then you could ever imagine.

However waitresses are not classified as independents.  They receive a $2.17 to $5 an hour plus tips, on average.

Joe
Joe

Most aren't dancing because their other career option was being a brain surgeon.

Easy mark for the lawyers....

RyanJ99
RyanJ99

@Joe You must be a brain surgeon yourself.  If they werent violating the law in numerous ways, the lawyers wouldnt have a leg to stand on in a court of law.  Club owners are guilty of a myriad of illegal activities, obviously you wouldnt know about that seeing how you work in a hospital performing surgeries on brains (maybe an operation on yourself is in order)

Aguilera
Aguilera

That is why there are more and more people would consider it as a healthy sport item like Yoga.

Dan
Dan

I've worked as an independent contractor. There were no expectations of schedule or hours on site, merely that the project would be completed on-time. I did spend time on site, and usually during normal business hours, but that is when others are most available to meet with. I chose when to be on site.

The article quotes one of the owners or lawyers, something to the effect that the dancers are free to become employees and be paid $9.00 per hour with minimal benefits if they choose to. Guess what? Nobody's going to choose that option, are they?

Let's see. $500 per night times 5 nights per week = $2500 per week x 52 weeks = $130,000 in revenues. Some expenses come out of that, but one would think that the dancers could easily fork over $7K to $10K per year for health insurance out of that! And they can buy their own worker's comp insurance, too. Seems like a good deal for the average dancer who takes their job seriously, and isn't just dancing in order to snort and shoot up.

RyanJ99
RyanJ99

@Dan  You start by saying you have worked as an independent contractor, but lack credibility by continuing to spew total unfounded nonsense.  How do you know they make $500 a night, are you a former dancer? Or are you simply a mark who likes to hand out 500 to every stripper you meet? Your post reeks of someone who knows nothing of the business except maybe a patrons viewpoint and a slow one at that. Ive been a manager in the industry for years and I know firsthand that most girls make between $200 and $300 a night without calculating expenses. The majority dont make $500+ a night. Of course the escorts make that much and girls offering extras may make more, but the every day stripper that only wants to dance does not and they work mandatory 8 hour shifts, which means they are scheduled to work, which means they should be paid a wage, if you know anything about the business youd know that. Independent contractors are given free will to work when they want. Some girls walk away with $50-100 a night after spending $50 on house fees, tipping out mandatory $20, and making between 100-200. The cabaret owners and managers have made a mockery out of the business for years its time the golden days where girls are mistreated and owners make a bundle while incompetent managers hire drug users and prostitutes at no cost to them because each girl is a revenue stream need to end.  Regulation and reclassification of these employees is a necessity to clean up these clubs and give these guys time to rethink their strategies and theyre business models.  Keep quiet when you know nothing of what you speak, you sound like a bitter mark.

Priscilla
Priscilla

You are making a couple of mistakes in your calculations. One, you are assuming that every stripper works 5 nights a week, and that she makes that $500 every night. This is very foolish of you.

It is only the top earners at a top club who will make that kind of money consistently, and everyone has a slow night. And more than half the women stripping are doing it because they can make enough working 2-3 nights a week to live on a shoestring while they go to college or raise their kids.

Larry in Laredo
Larry in Laredo

expenses like what:

-coke-condoms?

just sayin'

Queencaramel2000
Queencaramel2000 like.author.displayName 1 Like

Someone is a bitter hater Laredo. You have some serious issues towards strippers. Broke? Ugly? Both? Or do you just hate pretty girls because you can't have them?

RyanJohnSmith
RyanJohnSmith

The old stand-by retort, ( and only ), from a whore trying to make what she does sound glamorous and respectful.

Sa
Sa

I thought this was explained in the article. I believe makeup, hair products, and costumes were given as examples. You'd be surprised how expensive makeup and hair products can be.

mynameisURL
mynameisURL

Soooooo....

If you combine a "Yellow" and a "Green", does it produce a "Blue"?

 
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