Strippers Who Sued Jaguars Claim the Chain Retaliated. And That, Judge Says, Is a No-No.
Photo by Eric Garcia
A Dallas-based strip-club chain facing a class-action lawsuit tried to compel its dancers not to join that legal action -- and even fired a woman who wouldn't comply, or so the strippers claim. In a motion filed earlier this month, the dancers also claim that the clubs foisted the agreements on the dancers late at night -- and when many of the strippers were drunk.
The chain, Jaguars, denies the allegations. But a judge ruled today that the clubs have to post a notice reminding dancers that they're free to join the class action and that retaliation for their doing so is illegal.
The dancers claims come in the midst of an ongoing lawsuit over whether strippers should be classified as employees or independent contractors, the subject of our cover story several weeks ago. Lawsuits are being filed against strip clubs across the country, and one of the latest is against both Jaguars Gold and its owner, Bryan Scott "Niko" Foster. The nine plaintiffs in the suit are from the Abilene, El Paso, Odessa, Fort Worth and Lubbock branches of the club. Foster calls the suit and ones like it the work of "ambulance chasers," but the legal system often disagrees.
In a motion for emergency injunctive relief filed earlier this month, the strippers claim that upon learning about the lawsuit, the defendants "swiftly hatched an illegal plan to discourage other potential class members from joining this lawsuit." They allege that on the night of December 2 and very early into the morning of December 3, the dancers were asked to line up and shown a "screen shot" of a legal document, then "asked on the spot" to decide whether they wanted to be employees or independent contractors. At that time, the dancers claim, most of the women were in the middle of their shifts and that "many of them were intoxicated."
The motion claims that one El Paso dancer, Claudia Rede, got to work on the night of December 2 and did "several shots" in the dressing room with a few of her friends. Around 10:15, she headed out onto the floor but was stopped by the club's general manager, Fernando Robles, and asked to grab her I.D. and go to vice president Gary Garcia's office. When she got there, the motion claims, she saw a line of dancers waiting outside.
The dancers allege that Garcia told her she had to sign the document before she could go to work. In addition to choosing between "employee" and "independent contractor," the document contained language that would prevent the dancers from taking part in any lawsuits against the club, the dancers claim. They say that after Rede selected the "independent contractor" option and put her signature on Garcia's iPhone she wasn't provided a copy of what she'd just signed.
"After working a few hours," the motion reads, "Rede became alarmed when talking to other entertainers because she did not know what she had just signed." When she went back around 2:30 to talk to Garcia, he told her not worry about it and asked "why it was such a big deal." The motion claims that she was told she could "cancel" her contract, but that she'd no longer be able to work at the club and have to leave immediately. She did cancel the contract, the motion says, and hasn't been allowed back at Jaguars since.
The dancers argue that contract they signed attempts to not-so-gently nudge them towards contractor status by misstating the law. The document, they claim, told them that "employees" will be paid minimum wage, forced to share their tips (without making it clear that it's illegal to be forced to share tips with non-tipped employees), that they'll have to turn over all their dance fees to management, that they can be forced to perform for club patrons and staff "FREE," and that they'll be asked to fill in for anyone who doesn't show up for work, including the waitresses, door people, and janitors. They argue that the documents clearly represent retaliation for the lawsuit, which is illegal.
Jaguars disputes the dancers' version of events -- and the whole concept of stripper misclassification lawsuits, for that matter. In their response to the motion, attorneys Roger Albright and Luke Lirot write that "from the outset, it is clear that Plaintiffs' counsel are hopping on the 'band-wagon' of the numerous 'dancer classification' cases in the effort to 'cash in' on alleged infirmities of an allegedly 'industry standard' business model, and exploit what has been a long and mutually beneficial, albeit 'informal,' relationship, wherein performers are given a generous opportunity to share in the prosperity generated by the popularity of upscale gentlemen's clubs.'"
Furthermore, they say, to suggest that the dancers didn't receive minimum wage "is not only inaccurate, it borders on fraud."
Jaguars' lawyers deny the allegation that the dancers were illegally forced to sign new agreements to prevent them from joining the lawsuit. They say the paperwork was meant to "provide an accurate description and memorialize the 'meeting of the minds' that every performer has had with the Club, since day one. No performer has acted as an 'employee,' and no performer has desired to be classified as an 'employee.'"
Lirot and Albright call the misclassification lawsuits the result of "unbridled avarice" on the part of greedy lawyers, and that Jaguars management began reviewing their legal agreements with their dancers after hearing about other suits. They add that Rede is still "welcome to return" to the club, either as an employee or as an "independent space lessee and licensee," which, they say, is how she has "earned her living, handsomely, for the last several years."
They also call the retaliation claim "bogus." Affidavits from Gary Garcia, the El Paso vice president, and Kevin Richardson, the president of operations for the entire Jaguars chain, claim that Rede was given ample time to look over the papers before she signed them, and that she was never told her job hinged on signing. Richardson also calls the misclassification lawsuits as a whole "bold and amazingly ingracious efforts" to "exploit the very Clubs that provided them with such an excellent opportunity to make far in excess of 'minimum wage.'"
All the relevant docs are below. No photos included. Sorry.
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