by: Brian Bowling, TribLIVE Updated:
PITTSBURGH - Dancers who wear very little at the Downtown strip club Blush also sometimes earn very little, a former dancer claims in a federal lawsuit.
“Indeed, after paying all fees, fines and tip-outs, plaintiff has on several occasions taken home compensation of $30 or less for an eight-or-more-hour shift,” the lawsuit by Katisha Correll says.
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Correll, whose age and address were unavailable, claims that Blush classifies dancers as independent contractors and doesn't pay them.
Instead, they work for tips, and the club takes a share of their tips in the form of “house fees” and other payments. The dancers are also required to “tip” other employees and pay $30 to $40 fines for showing up late to work, according to the lawsuit filed on Friday.
Albert Bortz, owner of One Three Five Inc., which does business as Blush, couldn't be reached for comment. Staff at the club referred questions to attorney Jonathan Kamin, who couldn't be reached.
The dancers owe minimum fees regardless of how much they make, the lawsuit says.
“The thought of it sounds like it's clever, but it's not legal,” said Gary Lynch, one of the attorneys representing Correll.
Lynch said dancers have won similar lawsuits in other parts of the country.
“This seems to be the way they operate,” he said of the clubs.
A New York federal judge in September ruled in favor of more than 1,900 current and former dancers who sued Rick's Cabaret in New York City for classifying them as independent contractors and not paying them minimum wage.
In November 2012, about 16,500 current and former dancers reached a $13 million settlement with the owners of 16 clubs in California, Nevada, Florida, Texas, Idaho and Kentucky.
Sam Cordes, a prominent labor law attorney in Pittsburgh, said such cases usually hinge on how closely the employer manages the person doing the work.
“The right to control is usually the most paramount issue in whether someone is an independent contractor or an employee,” he said.
If the worker has the discretion on how and when to do the work, then the scale tips toward the worker being an independent contractor, he said. If not, the scale tips toward the worker being an employee.
The lawsuit says Blush dictates most aspects of the dancers' work, including which shifts they work, what clothes they wear, which songs they dance to and in what order they dance.
The club also requires dancers to accept “Blu Money” from customers, the lawsuit says. The customers pay $110 for 100 “Blu” dollars, but the club only pays the dancers $90 when they cash them back in, the lawsuit says.
Cordes said those allegations, if true, give Correll a strong case. Fining workers for showing up late and taking part of their tips when they aren't paid minimum wage are clear violations, he said.
“That money belongs to the employees,” he said.
Correll is suing on behalf of herself and all current and former dancers for the club. The lawsuit seeks recovery of the minimum wages and overtime owed the dancers, as well as damages.
The lawsuit says there are more than 100 potential members of that class, and their claims against the club will exceed $5 million.
Brian Bowling is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-325-4301 or firstname.lastname@example.org.