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.

It's fitting, then, that the granddaddy of stripper lawsuits came out of '90s-era Cabaret Royale. Between 1989 and 1995, the Department of Labor engaged in a drawn-out dispute with the club and its then-owner, Salah Izzedin, arguing that the club owed more than $11 million in back pay to both dancers and waitresses who had been classified as independent contractors.

Like the lawsuits that would follow, the suit also dealt with "funny money," the in-house currency that customers can use to pay dancers for lap dances and stage work — money that the dancers, theoretically at least, can turn in for cash at the end of the night.

"Strip clubs operate in a very strange way," says Audacia Ray, a former editor for $pread, a now-defunct publication written by sex workers. Customers buy the currency using credit or debit cards rather than use an ATM machine, and dancers "are supposed to be able to redeem the fake cash for real cash." But often, she says "the club puts them off and says, 'We don't have the cash to do that tonight." In New York, where Ray lives, strippers are suing for as much as $50,000 they say the clubs owe them in unredeemed funny money.

By day, Rebecca Avalon teaches strippers how to make the most of their shifts.
Naomi Vaughan
By day, Rebecca Avalon teaches strippers how to make the most of their shifts.
By night, she practices what she preaches at the Lodge.
Naomi Vaughan
By night, she practices what she preaches at the Lodge.

In the case of Cabaret Royale, a judge agreed with the government that the dancers were indeed employees, based on the degree of control that Cabaret Royale exercised over their work environment. He awarded the dancers and waitresses $11 million in back pay and misappropriated tips.

The Observer predicted at the time that the lawsuit could have "profound effect" on the industry, forcing every club in town to quit using funny money and to classify their dancers as employees, lest they incur the wrath of the feds. In 1998, the famed Mitchell Brothers O'Farrell Theatre in San Francisco was forced to settle a similar suit. An industry-wide paradigm shift seemed imminent.

But little has changed. It's unclear whether Cabaret Royale paid what it owed to the waitresses and dancers, or switched, even temporarily, to an employee system. (The Department of Labor official involved in the case couldn't be reached.) The club reportedly filed for bankruptcy and changed ownership soon after the lawsuit, and a spokeswoman said Cabaret Royale continues to use a contract system. "I think the contract labor was what was upheld," she said.

If the 1990s were the crest of a stripper-lawsuit wave, what's happening now looks more like a tsunami. In the last two years alone, lawsuits have surfaced in Oregon, Washington, California, Massachusetts and Florida — all accusing the clubs of violating the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), the federal law that sets overtime and minimum wage for all workers. And although the government involved itself in a handful of cases in the '90s, these days it's labor lawyers who have largely taken up the cause.

Gregg Greenberg, an attorney at Philip Zipin Law, a Washington, D.C.-area employment law firm that's handled several of the suits, claims strippers often decide to sue after they've been fired, injured or aged out of dancing. Generally they've also worked in a number of clubs and start to understand how the system works in the club's favor.

"It's a transient industry," he says. "Dancers will stay at one club for about nine months to a year, then on to the next one. As they get older, wiser and nearing retirement age, someone tells them, 'Maybe you should have gotten paid minimum wage.'" Or, he says, they get fired from a club and are denied unemployment, or fall off the pole, or take a tumble from five-inch heels and realize they've got no healthcare and no way to get workers comp.

Clubs often claim that transience — moving from one club to another, or working at multiple clubs — is part of what makes the dancers contract workers, not employees. The argument is not "totally ridiculous," Cynthia Estlund, a professor at NYU's Center for Labor and Employment Law, writes in an email, provided that the dancers work at multiple clubs at the same time. But, she adds, "Moving from one club to another — transience in the normal sense — seems less relevant."

But an independent contractor is defined as a worker who is contracted with an employer to complete a specific piece of work, regardless of "how it will be done," according to the IRS. The notion of "control" looms large in these disputes; a contractor, technically, shouldn't be subject to the employer's control, except for what they both agree to in a signed contract.

For strippers, the definition of "contractor" is often strained by the amount of control the clubs place on the women, especially things like requiring stage time and giving the women an exacting dress code. "'Control' over the details of the work — which in the case of strippers has a lot to do with what they can wear to work," is a factor that weighs in favor of employee status, Estlund writes.

The legal system seems to agree. Whether it's a judge's decision or, less commonly, a jury trial, the courts tend to reach the same conclusion: Dancers are employees, not independent contractors, and should be awarded damages based on the minimum wage and overtime laws.

« Previous Page
 |
 
1
 
2
 
3
 
4
 
5
 
6
 
All
 
Next Page »
 
My Voice Nation Help
42 comments
colorado disability lawyer
colorado disability lawyer

threre will be about 1 million new veterans added to the 22 million American veterans as active-duty service members leave the military over the next five years.This increase in veterans to serve means a larger budget for the Department of Veterans Affairs. President Barack Obama's proposed budget includes $140.3 billion for the VA to cover the 2012 fiscal year beginning Oct.

colorado disability lawyer
colorado disability lawyer

When employees are injured on the job, they ere entitled to certain benefits including medical care, lost wages, permanent impairment,

disfigurement, and permanent disability. Unfortunately Workers’ Compensation is a very complicated, fast-paced, and technical – your claim and

benefits can be closed, limited, or lost without your knowledge or permission.

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.

Jessica
Jessica

I am a 26 years old girl, down to earth and cute but still single ... I wanna find my lover who can give me a real love,so I joined in the seekcasual.COM,it's the best club for man and woman finding their intimate encounters. Well, you do not have to be lonely , you can meet the Mr. or Miss. Right there.

fdasgasdg
fdasgasdg

Hello, everybody, the good shoping place, the new season approaching, click in. Let's Facelift bar! ( http://fashion-long-4biz.com )Air Jordan (1-24) shoes $33 UGG BOOT $50 Nike shox (R4, NZ, OZ, TL1, TL2, TL3) $33 Handbags ( Coach Lv fendi D&G) $36 T-shirts (polo, ed hardy, lacoste) $16 Jean (True Religion, ed hardy, coogi)$30 Sunglasses ( Oakey, coach, Gucci, Armaini)$16 New era cap $16 ATO shoes $42 Gucci shoes $42 ,prada shoes $40 NBA jerseys $33 ,NHL jerseys $29 YSL shoes $85 Bikini (Ed hardy, polo) $18 Accept paypal payment, accept Credit card payments, electronic check payments. FREE SHIPPING ( http://fashion-long-4biz.com )

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.

Mysti Dancer
Mysti Dancer

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.

Larry in Laredo
Larry in Laredo

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

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.

Joe
Joe

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

Easy mark for the lawyers....

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.

mynameisURL
mynameisURL

Soooooo....

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

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.

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

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.

Tsepmet1
Tsepmet1

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

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.

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.

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.

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.  

Queencaramel2000
Queencaramel2000

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?

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.

RyanJohnSmith
RyanJohnSmith

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

 
Loading...