Exotic dancers sue PT's strip clubs over tips and wages

News-DemocratFebruary 18, 2014 

The exterior of the PT's strip club in Brooklyn. There are two other locations in the metro-east.

STEVE NAGY/BND

Two exotic dancers have filed a class-action lawsuit against local PT's nightclubs for alleged unfair labor practices.

An industry attorney, though, said past court decisions show the dancers' lawsuit does not have merit.

Brandy Apple and Amanda E. Sheer, both of Missouri, allege they and more than 300 other dancers are employees as opposed to independent contractors as claimed by the clubs' owners. The clubs have live nude and semi-nude dance entertainment with each nightclub averaging about 20 to 40 dancers per day.

PT's is owned by Colorado-based VCG Holding Corp. The corporation has clubs locally and in other states as well.

The local clubs are located at 200 Monsanto Ave. in Sauget, 60 Four Corners Lane in Centreville, and 213 Madison St. in Brooklyn.

VCG Holding Corp. President Michael Ocello could not be reached for comment. Ocello directed inquiries to Brad Schafer, an advisory attorney with the Association of Club Executives -- the industry's national trade association.

Schafer said past rulings in the Illinois Appellate Court and from the Illinois Department of Human Rights have found the entertainers are appropriately classified as non-employees.

The dancers allege the owners failed to pay them minimum wage and other benefits as required by state and federal law, and were forced to unlawfully split tips with other employees such as managers and DJs.

Apple and Sheer could not be reached for comment.

Schafer said an independent contractor by legal definition would actually be paid by the clubs. In these cases, entertainers work in more of a flea market structure where they receive revenue from their own customers and then pay the clubs to use the club's space.

The suit was filed Jan. 31 on behalf of exotic dancers who worked at the clubs from 2004 to the present. Neil Smith of the Smith Law Firm in Clayton, Mo., is representing the dancers. Smith could not be reached for comment.

Schafer said when entertainers are first hired at the clubs, they are given the option to choose to work as an employee or a non-employee.

"Entertainers virtually always select the independent contractor's status because they have far more legal benefits as non-employees rather than employees," Schafer said.

For example, the dancers can claim costumes and even cosmetic surgery as business expenses on their taxes.

Tips are the dancers sole source of income and they do not receive any tax-related forms (such as a W-2) showing any wages paid to them by the club, according to the lawsuit.

Among other reasons, the dancers believe they are employees because club management sets the conditions of their employment.

For example, the nightclub sets the dancer's shift, show times a dancer may perform, minimum table dance tips, and dancers must clock in and clock out at beginning and end of shift. If late, the dancer may be fined.

Contact reporter Daniel Kelley at dkelley@bnd.com or 618-239-2501.

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