Strip Club Owner 'Disappointed' to Learn Dancers Have Labor Rights
For decades, strippers have been classified not as employees, but as independent contractors. This has worked out splendidly for the owners of strip clubs, but not so much the dancers themselves. However, over the last few years, dancers across the country have been suing for the right to be recognized as employees — and they have been winning.
On Tuesday, an appeals court upheld the ruling of a federal judge who found in favor of two of these dancers last year and awarded them around $17,000 each.
Dancers Jaime Gilbo and Alyssa Smith sued Brass Pole, an establishment in Elyria, Ohio, where they used to work, along with its owner Harley Rowe for violating their rights under the Fair Labor Standards Act by denying them basic minimum wage and overtime protections. The women were not paid by Brass Pole, but rather had to rely entirely on tips from their customers — a portion of which they actually had to pay back to the club for the privilege of dancing there.
As "independent contractors," Gilbo and Smith were required to pay the club $20 for the first private dance and $5 for each subsequent private dance, regardless of whether or not this meant they were making the minimum wage. They were also not entitled to overtime pay or health care or allowed to unionize.
The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals found that the establishment treated the dancers like employees, in terms of controlling what they were allowed to wear, keeping track of their shifts, requiring them to work a certain amount on weekdays. Also because the club would not be able to operate without them, they were entitled to the benefits of being treated like employees. Just like other employees of Brass Pole were.
"The services provided by exotic dancers like Gilbo and Smith are the integral component of Brass Pole," the appeals judges wrote.
"While Brass Pole calls itself a bar and grill, it has no kitchen and instead sometimes serves precooked microwavable burgers, Hot Pockets and pizza from Sam's Club. In analyzing this factor, other courts have asked whether the business could not function without the services its workers provide. Here, Brass Pole could not function without the services of its dancers."
HOT POCKETS. THEY SERVED HOT POCKETS.
Look, I am far from a prude or a snob, I don't like to kink-shame anyone or food-shame anyone or whatever-shame anyone ... but I just cannot condone the consumption of Hot Pockets in what is supposed to be a sexy atmosphere. What kind of a monster looks at boobs while eating a Hot Pocket? I'm sorry but that is just offensive. Maybe this means I am more judgmental than I thought I was, but that is just where I draw the line. Hot Pockets.
But I digress.
This was not actually the first time Brass Pole had been sued for refusing its "independent contractors" the benefits that come with being employees. In 2016, two other dancers successfully sued Rowe and his club for the same thing. Although they were successful in their lawsuit, the judgment applied only to them and not to any other Brass Pole dancers.
Stephen Hanudel, the lawyer representing Rowe, said his client found the judgment "disappointing" and suggested it was rooted in public distaste for strip clubs and strip club owners rather than in public distaste for an employer fucking over his workers.
"We will still look for other avenues," Hanudel said. "Disappointed probably sums it up. I get the position that strip clubs and strip club owners won't be viewed sympathetically in the courts and I think that's nationwide in courts. He felt he made a good faith effort to make the changes he had to make and he still got sued and he felt frustrated."
Aw, poor baby. Eat a Hot Pocket, you'll feel better.
In 2019, lawsuits just like this one were filed by strippers approximately every four days. More and more strip clubs across the country are losing their "right" to screw them out of labor protections. In California, groups like Soldiers of Pole have been working to unionize strippers as well, now that they are officially classified as employees across the state. It's part of the larger movement for sex workers rights that came out of the organized opposition to FOSTA/SESTA, but it's also a part of the new labor movement writ large, where we — ideally — take everyone's labor rights seriously.
Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse