Rick's Cabaret Strippers Won the Right to Minimum Wage, But Some Dancers Think It'll Only Make Things Worse

ricks_newyork_dancers.jpg
Image via Rick's New York
The hottest trend in the nation's strip clubs is the dancers suing the pants off their employers. Latest case in point: Rick's Cabaret, conveniently located right near beautiful scenic Penn Station, and the site of a three-year-long stripper vs. management wage and hour lawsuit. On Tuesday, a federal judge sided with the strippers, ruling that they are employees of the club and deserve to be paid a minimum hourly wage . But will the lawsuit actually make working conditions at the club any more fair? On Stripper Web, a private forum for dancers, the reaction to the Rick's ruling was highly skeptical. Working strippers have seen these lawsuits before, and they've learned to be wary.

A little background: employment lawsuits at strip clubs have become common in the past few years, spurred by the fact that most strip clubs inappropriately classify their dancers as "independent contractors." It's a neat trick, a not-exactly-IRS-legal one, that allows the clubs to get away with not paying the dancers minimum wage, overtime, or worker's comp in the case of injury on the job. But it's unfair, because the level of control the clubs exert over the dancers is very much "employee," not "independent contractor." At Rick's, for example, dancers were required to wear at least four-inch stilettos, forego body glitter, cover up their tattoos, not chew gum, and, heaven forbid, never wear the same dress two days in a row.

Independent contractor status is just one of a host of sketchy requirements that strip clubs impose on their talent. Like a lot of other clubs, Rick's, a chain of clubs based in Houston, also charges its dancers "house fees," an amount they pay just to work (at Rick's it was reportedly $50 a night). And customers are required to purchase what strippers call "funny money", in-house Monopoly money that they use to tip their dancers for lap dances, and which the dancers theoretically turn in at the end of their shift for real cash. In practice, many dancers have reported being shorted when it came time for the fake money to be traded out for the real thing. Although each "dance dollar" at Rick's cost $24, the dancers alleged that they only saw $18 of that.

So three years ago, around 50 women filed a $5 million lawsuit against the club, both for not paying them minimum wage, for unlawfully taking some of their tips, and for charging them various illegal fines and penalties. In ruling in their favor, U.S. District Judge Paul Engelmayer wrote in part that the Rick's house rules "regulated almost every aspect of the dancers' behavior within the Club," making it clear they were employees. (You can read the full ruling on the next page.)

In a statement, Rick's CEO Eric Langan told the NYT that Tuesday's ruling would have "no impact on Rick's Cabaret New York City, since we changed our independent contractor practices some time ago." He also said the minimum wage was "a fraction" of the $1000 per night he claimed the dancers at Rick's take home.

And the dancers on Stripper Web reacted to the news of the Rick's victory with a heaping handful of salt. "My manager says it won't change anything," wrote one New York-based stripper.

"That's good to hear," another dancer responded. "Most of the time these settlements make a change for the worse." The only exceptions, she said, were Deja Vu in San Francisco and Spearmint Rhino in Las Vegas. Deja Vu got rid of all their house fees, while Spearmint Rhino increased the cut of the funny money that the dancers took home.

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6 comments
ocilac
ocilac

its like this at 99.9% of strip clubs and owners/management get away with it because, frankly, they can. not all 'strippers'' actually make whatyou think they do. andd frankly, they are rarely aware of the facts that theeres no such thing as a mandatory tip, or what independent contracting actually impies. a strip club can't run without strippers. any other staff is easily replaceable. again, these things are charged of girls because they can be

km1swift
km1swift

Strippers complaining about money, and owner treating them bad, NOTHING NEW! It's the American Way.. Try running your own Company ladies and see if you want to pay people receiving tips minimum wage. It's the life you choose and I do like a good strip joint with their overprice drinks. Lol

MushMouth1
MushMouth1

Totally in favor of the no tattoo/body glitter/gum requirements. I'm an old-fashioned kind of guy.

NewsDog
NewsDog

Anna, admit it, you just like going to strip clubs.    

Anna_Merlan
Anna_Merlan

@MushMouth1 Does an "old-fashioned" stripper just show you a scandalous amount of ankle? 

Anna_Merlan_Voice
Anna_Merlan_Voice topcommenter

@NewsDog I am totally OK with you guys coming over just to heckle me. That's hilarious. 

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