Former Spearmint Rhino dancer sues club in labor dispute

By Scott Hadly (Contact)
Thursday, July 30, 2009

A former exotic dancer for the Spearmint Rhino in Oxnard has sued the adult nightclub chain in federal court, saying she and other dancers should be given rights as regular employees.

The woman, who is referred to in the suit as Jane Doe 2, is one of two women who say dancers at the company’s clubs in California and Nevada worked like regular employees but were treated like independent contractors.

“It’s commonly done in clubs,” said Hart Robinovitch, the women’s Arizona attorney. “They have them contract out their services, but under federal law if someone job matches the characteristics of an employee they are an employee.”

The two women are seeking back wages, tips, attorney fees and damages, but no amount is specified.

According to the suit, dancers on average earn about half a million dollars a year in tips for lap dances and table dances. The dances typically last three minutes and cost $10 to $20, according to the lawsuit.

The two dancers say most of their tips went to the club to cover “rent,” the disc jockey, overhead costs and even penalties if they didn’t get enough men to purchase drinks during a shift.

The case boils down to whether a person who works shifts at assigned times and under the direction of a boss is considered an employee, not an independent contractor, Robinovitch said.

Officials at the Spearmint Rhino headquarters in Norco, Calif., did not return calls for this story.

The lawsuit is similar to other cases filed against strip clubs across the country, where attorneys have sued on behalf of dancers under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act and state labor laws.

Last year, the Nevada Supreme Court heard a case against a Las Vegas club called the Glitter Gulch. The court ruled the club could not deduct hourly wages from the tips dancers earned. But the case also showed that many dancers prefer to remain “independent contractors” because attorneys spent several years trying to find dancers willing to join the suit against Glitter Gulch.

In the Spearmint Rhino lawsuit, Jane Doe 2, who no longer works for the Oxnard club, said in a sworn declaration filed Monday that she continues to work as a stripper but not for Spearmint Rhino.

The San Bernardino County woman further said in the declaration that she has spent a decade dancing in the U.S., Europe, Asia and Australia. And she has a college degree, taught English as a second language, and worked for a “nonprofit employee group.”

But she argued that her identity should not become public, an issue that must be litigated. She said she works as “far away as possible from my home in order to avoid anyone I might know and remain anonymous as possible.”

A hearing on the anonymity issue is set for early August in federal court in Los Angeles.

Link to original at Ventura County Star

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