Abilene Strippers Suing Over Backpay

Four strippers from Abilene are suing their employer in hopes of recouping overtime and unpaid wages they would have been entitled to if they were considered employees instead of contractors.
Fri December 16, 2011 12:34 am
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Four strippers from Abilene are suing a Dallas-based chain of strip clubs in federal court hoping to recoup overtime and unpaid wages they would have been entitled to if they were considered employees instead of contractors, the Abilene Reporter-News reported.

Attorneys for Bryan Scott Foster, the owner and manager of Jaguars Gold Clubs, fired back in court filings on Monday, accusing the exotic dancers of trying to "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 gentleman's clubs.'"

The legal tide is not moving in Foster's favor, however, as strippers have prevailed in lawsuits against clubs in ten states recently, winning million-dollar settlements. (The payout per dancer can reach up to $20,000.)

Adult entertainment is a $1 billion industry in Texas and the practice of considering strippers contract labor instead of employees with benefits is standard across the industry.

Anna Merlan delved into the world of stripper labor disputes in last week's Dallas Observer cover story, proving that an article about the Fair Labor Standards Act can be sexy if strippers are involved. "[T]o 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 . . . and even pay 'emergency' fees for leaving a shift early," Merlin writes.

As a contractor, a stripper becomes a kind of "freelance lap-dance consultant," Merlan wrote, paying a house fee to the club for the privilege of dancing on their stage. The clubs are off the hook for paying for medical insurance, overtime, workman's comp, minimum wage, and payroll taxes. This status also clears the club of legal liability if the strippers choose to sell "extras" on the side.

Clubs could see a shift towards the employee business model if the settlements continue. But, Merlin writes:

[D]ancers 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.

Rebecca Avalon, who Merlan dubbed "Stripping's Suze Orman" for the financial advice she gives out in her "Strip and Grow Rich" seminars, said working as a contractor has many benefits. "I don't think any of the girls filing these claims fully understand what being an employee would mean," Avalon told Merlan. "Say you do a dance for 20 dollars. That would belong to the club. And then the club would pay you, whatever, eight, nine bucks an hour to do the job." Tax benefits exist too, as contractors are able to write off everything from the cost of their costumes and makeup to the house fee they pay each night.

In 2010 a stripper writing for the Daily Caller under the pseudonym Pussy Per Se detailed  how her life changed after a Massachusetts court decision required all clubs to treat strippers as employees. (The actual article seems to have vanished from the Daily Caller 's website, but you can read an excerpt at Reason.)

The legislature of Massachusetts, attorney general Martha Coakley, and some savvy lawyers have now put me out of business. It’s not that they don’t like what I do for a living — dancing naked on a stage and giving private dances in a back room. I can keep doing that. What they don’t like is that I did all this as an independent contractor. That I was my own boss.

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