Labor & Employment

Strippers are club employees and should be paid minimum wage, federal judge rules

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Exotic dancers at a New York City strip club are club employees and are entitled to be paid a minimum wage, a federal judge has held.

U.S. District Judge Paul Engelmayer said in a ruling Tuesday that the dancers were “integral” to the club’s success, according to multiple reports.

“Unlike shoe-shine employees at an airport, topless dancers are the ‘main attraction’ at a topless nightclub and obviously very important to the business of the nightclub,” the judge wrote in a 65-page opinion (PDF).

The ruling, which came in a class-action lawsuit against Rick’s Cabaret in midtown Manhattan, paves the way for nearly 2,000 current and former dancers there to seek back wages, overtime pay and other benefits from the club.

The dancers, who sued the club in 2009, were required to pay the club a fee for the nights they worked. Rather than wages, they received “performance fees,” typically $20, from customers for the individual lap dances they performed.

The club had contended that the dancers were independent contractors over whom it had little control. It also claimed that the performance fees the dancers collected from customers should be counted against any wages they are entitled to receive.

Michelle Drake, a lawyer for the dancers, told Reuters she was “thrilled” by the decision. “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,” she said.

Eric Langan, CEO of Rick’s Cabaret International, said in a statement that the ruling would have “no effect” on the club because the company has changed its practices concerning contract workers.

“It is hard to imagine how these entertainers should be paid at the minimum wage, which would amount to a fraction of the $1,000 or more that some of them acknowledged they earned in a single night,” he said.

Jeffrey Kimmel, a lawyer for Rick’s Cabaret, said in a statement that the company would appeal and would seek to have the class decertified.

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