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Colorado strip club accused of exploiting dancers

8:46 AM, Aug 28, 2013   |    comments
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GRAND JUNCTION, Co. -- As Labor Day gets closer, more workers are stepping-up their demands for better wages and calling for a nationwide strike later this week.

There is a new lawsuit from workers who tend to stay private yet are now taking their fight public. Five former strippers filed a class action lawsuit against the Fantasy Gentlemen's Club in Grand Junction.

The club is accused of failing to pay its dancers, charging the dancers a fee to work, and fining strippers for breaking club rules.

The key argument in the 24-page lawsuit is that Fantasy Gentlemen's Club exploited strippers by treating them as employees, but failing to pay them.

The club owner says dancers are independent contractors, who work for tips not wages. Both sides say this case has the potential to change the strip club industry in Colorado.

"Whatever kind of work it is that people perform, they're entitled to be paid for it," said attorney Mari Newman.

Newman represents five former strippers who claim the club and its owner exploited them. Four ex-strippers are named in the original lawsuit and a fifth has since joined, Newman said.

Strippers at Fantasy Gentlemen's Club in Grand Junction are never paid by the hour. They pay the club a "house rate" to work, as much as $80 a night.

"The club forces the dancers to pay its other employees," Newman said.

Strippers are required to give a percentage of their tips to the DJ and Security, 7 percent each. They have to pay fines of up to $100 per violation if they break the club rules.

"Even if a doctor says they're sick, they get charged a fine. If they trade a shift, they get charged a fine. If a customer misbehaves, they get charged a fine," Newman said.

Signs posted inside the club show all kinds of rules, including restrictions on dancers and patrons touching private parts, cell phone use restrictions, and even a rule prohibiting dancers from "complaining to customers about their personal lives," because "they came here to have a good time not to hear about your bull----."

Kevin Eardley, owner of Fantasy Gentlemen's Club, defended his club's policies and business model.

"We're not exploiting anybody. These girls are walking out with $300 to $800 a night on average. We rarely enforced any of the fines. We don't force them to do anything. They show up on the nights that they want to work," Eardley said.

Curtis Graves, an attorney for the Mountain States Employers Council, says the lawsuit questions how a stripper's job description should be classified.

"They do raise important issues of employee versus independent contractor," Graves said.

The law says an employee is entitled to minimum wage, overtime, and tips. An independent contractor is paid for performing a service.

The difference boils down to one key question.

"How are they being controlled by their employer or the person they're contracted with," Graves said.

Independent contractors have more freedom. Employees have more rules.

"These are employees, not independent contractors," Newman said.

Eardley calls the strippers "tenants" who lease their dancing space.

"They never were employees. They're just disgruntled ex-strippers looking for a free hand out," Eardley said.

Those familiar with the strip club industry say it's not uncommon for dancers to earn more than $100,000 a year.

The lawsuit says strippers at Fantasy Gentlemen's Club had to pay so many fees and fines, sometimes they didn't even earn minimum wage.

Eardley confirms more than 50 dancers have worked at the club in the last three years. All of them are eligible to join this class action suit.

KUSA

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