New York strip club dancers win four-year fight for minimum wage

Tue Sep 10, 2013 6:14pm EDT
 
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By Carlyn Kolker

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Dancers at the midtown Manhattan strip club Rick's Cabaret should be paid minimum wage, a federal judge ruled on Tuesday, saying the club unfairly classified them as independent contractors when they are in fact club employees.

The ruling paves the way for 1,900 current and former Rick's Cabaret dancers to seek back wages from the club, extending a U.S. trend toward judges ruling that exotic dancers deserve to get minimum wage, overtime and other job protections.

A group of dancers sued Rick's Cabaret in 2009, seeking class-action status, saying they were not paid salaries but received "performance fees" - usually $20 - from customers for the lap dances they performed.

The dancers, who were required to pay the club a fee for the nights they worked, argued that they were denied basic minimum wage protections because Rick's Cabaret classified them as independent contractors.

Shares in Rick's Cabaret International Inc closed down 0.73 percent at $12.19 on the Nasdaq in a day of broadly bullish trading on Wall Street. The company owns more than 40 gentlemen's clubs and restaurants nationwide.

U.S. District Judge Paul Engelmayer of New York generally sided with the plaintiffs, saying in a 65-page ruling that the club exercised so much control over the dancers that the women were actually employees subject to the club's rules, and could not make independent decisions about their work.

Rick's Cabaret ordered that dancers not chew gum, dictated what outfits they wore, when they came to work and which bathrooms they used on the premises, Engelmayer said.

"After four years of litigation we are thrilled to finally have had our day in court," said Michelle Drake, an attorney for the dancers. "We think the ruling makes clear that employers can not avoid their obligation to pay wages by hoping that somehow their customers can do it for them."   Continued...