Lawsuits Allege L.A.-Area Strip Clubs Violate Labor Codes

Slav Kandyba
LOS ANGELES — Two class-action lawsuits — one filed in a Los Angeles Superior Court and another in federal court — argue that exotic dancers aren’t independent contractors and therefore entitled to be paid minimum wages.

Both lawsuits allege that a number of Los Angeles-area strip clubs are in violation of state and federal labor codes because they hire dancers as “independent contractors” to avoid having to pay them a minimum wage. The dancers are also often required to share their tips with bartenders, bouncers and other club employees, an unlawful act, according to the lawsuits.

The lawsuits are asking for damages as well as declaration that the practices are unlawful, according to the documents.

Patrick J. Manshardt, a Los Angeles attorney representing the dancers in the federal case, told XBIZ he has been thinking about filing a lawsuit "for years."

"You have to have a situation where you have to have a client ready to sue. When your plan is aligned you have to jump up and go forward," he said.

The impetus for the lawsuit also came from a recent suit filed in San Diego, Manshardt said, where Starbucks was sued by baristas who were forced to share their tips with managers.

Also, the notion that the dancers are independent contractors is a "total sham," he said.

"When the girls are being told when and where to work, charge this much for a dance, that completely destroys the whole concept of 'independent contractor," he said.

His opposition, most of which has answered the lawsuit and has asked for dismissal, disagrees. Clyde DeWitt, an attorney who represents the owners of gentlemen’s clubs Crazy Girls, Star Strip and Seventh Veil in The California Coalition of Undressed Performers, et al. vs. Spearmint Rhino, et al., told XBIZ that he doesn’t “think any two clubs have the same written agreement, so each one will have a different approach in hiring dancers.

“[The dancers] either have a choice to be an employee or they have an agreement where they rent time,” DeWitt said.

DeWitt is one of seven attorneys to represent clubs named in the federal lawsuit, filed by California Coalition of Undressed Performers and 4 Exotic Dancers on June 19 in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles. He said several lawyers have filed motions to dismiss the case because “they allege that the girls never worked” at the said clubs.

Celebrity website picked up the news of the second case, Demetria Ann Leshay and Roxanne Roberts, et al. vs. Starz, et al., filed Sept. 15 in Los Angeles Superior Court. DeWitt was unaware of the case until being informed by a reporter. Messages left for Thomas L. Fox, the attorney representing the dancers, weren’t returned.

Precedent may not bode well for the dancers, as a similar lawsuit filed against a San Francisco club didn’t go in their favor of a dancer. In 2006’s Buel vs. Chowder House, Inc., a jury determined that she was an independent contractor who wasn’t entitled minimum wage and an appeals court agreed.

“This isn’t something they’ll be able to steamroll through,” DeWitt said of the pending cases.