COLUMBIA — A group of strippers says several South Carolina nightclubs didn’t pay them according to federal standards, and the women have filed a federal lawsuit against them.
The lawsuit, filed earlier this year, accuses clubs in Columbia and Greenville of violating minimum wage and overtime provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act. It is similar to a class-action lawsuit filed last year against an adult nightclub in Atlantic Beach.
In court papers, the dancers say the clubs – Heart Breakers in Columbia and Platinum Plus locations in Columbia and Greenville – paid them no direct compensation. The dancers say their only pay resulted from customers’ tips.
On top of that, the lawsuit alleges, for dancers to perform, they were required to pay “house fees” ranging from $15 to $35 per shift to the clubs and give some of their tips to bouncers, managers and other employees.
“The failure of Defendants to compensate Plaintiffs and the members of the Plaintiff class at least minimum wage was knowing, willful, intentional, and done in bad faith,” the dancers’ attorneys wrote, saying their clients are entitled to back pay of $7.25 – the federal minimum wage – for each hour they worked, as well as time-and-a-half for any overtime in excess of 40 hours per week.
The lawsuit is being brought as a class action case, meaning that it’s on behalf of anyone who worked at the clubs within three years before the suit was filed and believes they were paid improperly.
Club operators have denied the allegations, maintaining that the dancers were independent contractors who were compensated fairly. Last month, the operators filed a counterclaim asking the court, in the event that back pay or overtime is ultimately awarded to the dancers, to deduct dance fees they say the dancers wrongfully withheld from their employers.
In addition, attorneys for the club operators say they should get further compensation if the dancers’ case is successful because, while employed by the clubs, the dancers would have gotten the full benefit of using the clubs’ “facilities, personnel, advertising, good-will, and all other assets” while retaining all the resulting revenue.
No hearings are scheduled in the case, which was first reported by The State newspaper.
The lawsuits are similar to others filed around the country, including a pending case against Thee New Dollhouse in Atlantic Beach.
Alexis Degidio – a former dancer at a nightclub, formerly called the Crazy Horse Saloon and Restaurant – alleges the club’s owners failed to pay minimum wage and overtime and forced dancers to share tips they earned for lap dances and other entertainment services.
Degidio’s lawsuit claims that Thee New Dollhouse dancers are required to pay a fee of up to $100 per shift in order to perform at the club, where they earn money through tips rather than wages. The dancers also are required to share a minimum of $25 per shift from their tips to co-workers including the club’s disc jockey, house mom, valet attendant and floor host.
Thee New Dollhouse’s owners deny any wrongdoing in court documents. They blame the club’s former manager, Joseph Hargadon, for any wage violations that might have occurred. The club’s owners say they warned Hargadon to stop demanding kickbacks from customers and employees, but “he continued the unauthorized taking of money . . . for his own personal gain and use.” Hargadon denies any wrongdoing in court documents.
Another Horry County strip club was sued in 2012 over wages and the independent contractor designation.
The owners of Tiffany’s Cabaret were sued by a former dancer who claimed she was forced to work without pay and share her tips with the owners and other employees. Club owners David Scrivani and Dominic Scrivani, who also own nightclubs in New York, settled the lawsuit last year by agreeing to pay a combined $37,500 to two of their clubs’ dancers.
In recent years, federal judges in Alaska, Baltimore and New York City have ruled that exotic dancers are protected by labor laws and entitled to at least a minimum wage.
The Sun News David Wren contributed to this report.