In Philadelphia, a federal court judge entered a nearly $4.6 million judgment in favor of a group of exotic dancers and against a strip club, the Penthouse Club. In the class action, the dancers argued they had been mischaracterized as independent contractors instead of as employees and, as a result, the dancers were deprived of minimum wages and tips they earned. The club argued it was not an employer and merely rented space to the exotic dancers, whom the club treated as independent contractors, but the jury rejected that argument and found the club was an employer. In this case, the club was deemed an employer because, among other things, it had the power to ban dancers (or fire them if they were employees) for violating club rules. The club required dancers to pay “tip outs” to other club employees such as fees to management, the DJ, the “house moms,” the emcee, security workers, and valets. As a result, the dancers argued their wages and tips, which they were entitled to keep as employees, were diverted. This fact pattern is increasingly common because dancers from across the country assert similar claims, but it also extends to other businesses that use similar pay models, such as exercise studios.
Savvy employer takeaways: Proceed with the utmost caution when using the independent contractor designation for service providers, ensure tipped employees are paid in accordance with applicable federal and state laws, and impose limits on tip-pooling and other tip-sharing rules.
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