By Tom James
SEATTLE (Reuters) - - A woman who worked as a stripper in a Denver nightclub has sued her former employer, a company with clubs around the country, claiming systematic labor violations including denial of wages.
Georgina Santich said in a complaint filed on Friday in Colorado District Court that she was paid only tips, had to pay fees out of her tips to dance in the club, and had to buy drinking water from the club and pay for mandatory services like valet parking.
The complaint named PT’s Showclub, the Denver club where Santich worked, and the club’s owner VCG Holding Corp, which also owns clubs in seven other states, as defendants.
Mari Newman, a Colorado civil rights attorney representing Santich, said by phone Tuesday that she was in contact with strippers who had worked for the company in the seven other states where it operates. A federal judge has to grant the lawsuit class status, but as many as 500 other dancers across the eight states could be affected, the lawsuit asserts.
A VCG representative declined to comment when reached by telephone Tuesday, and declined to make company owner Troy Lowrie, whom the lawsuit specifically names, available for an interview.
At the heart of the lawsuit is the question of whether dancers are employees or contractors. Under federal law, contractors are exempt from some labor protections, including minimum wage and overtime pay rules.
Instead of paying dancers a wage, VCG clubs required dancers to pay for access to the stage via a per-song charge and for access to private dance rooms, fees for which ranged from a quarter to a third of the dancers’ tips, the lawsuit alleges. According to the complaint, dancers also have to pay a $50 fee for every hour of their shifts that they do not dance.
The lawsuit also alleges that the clubs illegally forced dancers to give a quarter of their tips to bouncers and DJs. Under federal law, so-called “tip pooling” is generally only allowed among workers who would usually receive tips.
In 2009, VCG was placed under nationwide audit after labor violations, and in 2014 faced a similar lawsuit from dancers in Illinois.
Federal judges nationwide have ruled that strippers are employees under the Fair Labor Standards Act in a series of wage-and-hour lawsuits since 2010. Last year, a three-judge panel in the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously confirmed a ruling classifying strippers as employees.
(Editing by Patrick Enright, Bernard Orr)