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Georgia Stripper Sues Club; Treated As Employee; Paid Only Tips - Dances, Attire, Hours, Controlled by Owners

 

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by   Samuel Morris               Godwin Morris Laurenzi Bloomfield

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Former dancer sues Athens strip club seeking unpaid wages, overtime and tips

By ED MORALES

 

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A former exotic dancer at Toppers International Showbar is suing the strip club's owners for unpaid wages, overtime and tips she claims were withheld during her three years working at the downtown Athens establishment.

Christie Burrell filed a class-action lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Athens on Wednesday, alleging club owners Darnell Lewis Gardner and Sandra Gardner misclassified their adult entertainers as "independent contractors," allowing them to bypass compensation rules dictated by the federal Fair Labor Standards Act.

The former dancer contends the Gardners required or permitted dancers to work 40 hours or more per week but refused to compensate them at the applicable minimum wage and overtime rate. Stating her only compensation was in the form of tips, Burrell notes the Gardners' practice of failing to pay tipped employees properly, violating the minimum wage provision. She also accused them of the "practice of siphoning away those tips to distribute to non-tip eligible employees," according to the lawsuit.

Burrell is seeking to recover compensation for herself and all "current and former exotic entertainers who worked at Topper (sic) International Showbar at any time during the three years before this Complaint was filed up to the present," according to the lawsuit.

"She was the first person to come forward, there's been grumbling about this for a while and she happened to be the one with the courage to come forward," said attorney Andrew R. Frisch, who is representing Burrell in this matter.

Similar lawsuits have been filed across the country in recent years with the law coming down on the side of the dancers. The Scarlett's Cabaret strip-club chain in July settled a class-action suit for $6 million, which could benefit 4,700 women who worked at the club's three locations, according to the Miami Herald. A New York club in April settled a similar suit for $15 million, while last December a Texas club settled for $2.3 million.

In the local lawsuit, Frisch believes the number of dancers who would benefit would be smaller than previous lawsuits, with maybe a couple hundred involved instead of a couple thousand. Once the matter found traction in bigger metropolitan areas, it started to filter into smaller cities, Frisch said, with more such cases landing in court.

A Georgia federal judge set a precedent in February 2014 when ruling exotic dancers are employees and not independent contractors. Burrell's lawsuit expounds on this ruling, making several points which detail how the dancers should be considered legally as employees, such as:

• The Gardners controlled the dancers' work schedules;

• They required the entertainers to work a certain number of days during the week;

• They required dancers to wear specific clothing, determined the rate and method of payment, and set prices customers pay for private dances and admission to the VIP lounge.

"(The Gardners) controlled the nature, pay structure, and employment relationship of the Plaintiff and Class Members," the lawsuit states, and "as such, (they) are the employers of the Plaintiff and Class Members . . . and are jointly, severally, and liable for all damages."

The dancers were required to pay Toppers "house fees," and also divvy their tips with certain employees at the end of their shifts, including the DJ, house mom, security and managers. The Gardners "have had, and continue to have, an annual gross business volume in excess of $500,000.00 per annum," according to the lawsuit.

Burrell worked at Toppers from November 2012 to November 2015, and had "first-hand personal knowledge of the pay violations." She charges the Gardners disciplined the dancers for not following club rules and "instructed the entertainers about when, where, and how the entertainers were to perform their work." No records were kept of the dancers' work hours which "have not complied with federal law," according to the lawsuit.

Burrell is demanding a jury trial and seeks overtime compensation for all hours worked over 40 hours, all unpaid wages at the federally mandated minimum wage rate, all misappropriated tips, all funds labelled as fees, fines or otherwise, reasonable attorney's fees, and "such other relief to which Plaintiff and Class Members may be entitled."

The attorney said, "We think this is a strong case certainly, which is why we agreed to take it on. These clubs are making so much money by not paying the girls their rightful wages and they don't want to comply with the law until they are forced into complying with the law."

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50 N. Front St., Memphis TN  38103

901 528 1702    901 949 1144

 

Georgia Stripper Sues Club; Treated As Employee; Paid Only Tips - Dances, Attire, Hours, Controlled by Owners

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