Exotic dancer’s lawsuit in Colorado could have impact on Raleigh club

The parent company of The Men's Club on Yonkers Rd. in Raleigh has been named in a lawsuit by a former dancer. The club is seen on March 15, 2017.
The parent company of The Men's Club on Yonkers Rd. in Raleigh has been named in a lawsuit by a former dancer. The club is seen on March 15, 2017.

Editor’s Note: Since publication, the N&O has learned that passages from this story were taken in large part or in whole from “More Exotic Dancers’ Misclassification Suits Dispute Clubs’ Business Model, Lawyers Say” by Bloomberg BNA without attribution. This is a violation of our standards. We apologize to our readers.

A Raleigh strip club is one of the venues listed in a Colorado exotic dancer’s federal lawsuit claiming that the adult entertainment company she danced for exploited her and perhaps hundreds of others by requiring them to pay “house fees” to work.

Georgina Santich, the Colorado dancer, contends in the lawsuit filed in Denver late last week that VCG Holding Corp., which owns and operates The Men’s Club of Raleigh, failed to pay her minimum wages and overtime pay.

The corporation’s business model, the dancer contends, erroneously categorizes dancers as contract workers rather than employees who get hourly wages and qualify for overtime pay.

Not only are the dancers required to pay anywhere from $20 to work early afternoon shifts to more than $100 for prime shifts, they also are required to share tips with the club’s bouncers and DJs – some of whom regularly receive more than $200 a night in tips, according to the dancer’s complaint.

“This is a case about the exploitation of one of the most vulnerable groups of employees: young women working as dancers in adult entertainment establishments,” the lawsuit states.

Santich’s case is one of many wage and hour lawsuits that have been filed across the country in recent years challenging the common business model used by strip clubs.

She has asked for class-action status, which, if granted, could make it possible for dancers at The Men’s Club of Raleigh to benefit from any ruling.

The courts have wrangled before with the question of whether strip clubs are accurately classifying dancers.

In many of the cases, the clubs have argued that dancers are independent contractors or lessees who earn a decent living in their establishments without having to worry about legal liabilities or engage in the political fights that come with the territory of running adult entertainment businesses.

Federal judges, though, have sided with the performers over and over, saying the Fair Labor Standards Act protects their rights to be considered employees and paid wages, as well as provided such benefits as workers’ compensation and unemployment insurance.

In 2014, a New York federal judge awarded nearly $11 million to a class of exotic dancers who brought similar complaints.

Some 11,000 exotic dancers in California and Nevada settled their state and federal misclassification claims against the Spearmint Rhino chain of adult entertainment clubs for $12.97 million.

Some club owners have tried to get around the classification challenges by getting dancers to sign agreements saying they are temporarily leasing space in the clubs to conduct their business, similar to how some hair salons lease space to stylists.

In those agreements, the club owners often include arbitration clauses in which the dancers agree to give up their right to sue.

VCG Holding has not responded to the lawsuit in court filings yet. Company representatives have declined to comment, The Associated Press reported.

Efforts to reach managers at The Men’s Club of Raleigh were not successful Tuesday.

Santich’s suit in Colorado outlines numerous fees and fines levied against her and others by the club, PT’s Showclub in Denver. She contends she was required to pay the DJ a $5 fee for every song she danced to on stage, and the club employed someone who tallied the numbers and collected the fees.

The dancers also were required to pay for valet parking, additional fees for time in the VIP rooms and $6 for bottled water.

They also were required to meet certain physical appearance requirements – as well as wear high heels, particular types of dresses and styles of makeup.

Santich, according to the lawsuit, was fired Feb. 13 after working for the club owners for nine years because she did not meet the physical appearance requirements.

The dancer and her attorney contend that the club owners are improperly enhancing their own business coffers while forcing dancers to live off tips.

“This is a predatory business that preys on young women who it hopes will be powerless to speak up because of society’s stigmatization of the work they are doing,” Mari Newman, a Denver civil rights attorney representing Santich, said in a prepared statement. “These Clubs’ refusal to pay their dancers is a clear violation of the law. We hope this class action lawsuit will send a message to adult establishments everywhere that they must treat their workers fairly. ”

Anne Blythe: 919-836-4948, @AnneBlythe1