In a class-action lawsuit filed June 22 against Kearny Mesa strip joint Cheetahs, a former dancer says the club should be paying the talent a minimum wage.
Jasmine Hayes, who worked at the club for over a year (from 2011 to 2012), accuses Cheetahs owner Suzanne Coe and staff of violating the labor code by failing to pay standard minimum wages.
Cheetahs requires dancers to pay a "house fee" ranging from $40 to $80 per night, depending on the shift. Dancers must also tip the deejay, the door person, and the floor manager a percentage of the tips made from private dances. If the tips don't cover the house fee, dancers are asked to stay to clean the club after the doors close.
The club, claims the lawsuit, skirts the labor-code requirements by illegally calling dancers "independent contractors." But, according to Hayes’s attorneys, the "independent contractor" designation doesn't work because there exists an economic relationship between the dancer and the club.
"...[A]s a matter of economic reality, Hayes and all other class members are not in business for themselves and truly independent, but rather are economically dependent upon finding employment in others, namely Cheetahs. The dancers are not engaged in occupations or businesses distinct from that of [Cheetahs]. Rather, their work and presence is integral to [the club's] success. [Cheetahs] obtains guests who desire exotic dance entertainment and provide the workers who conduct the exotic dance services on behalf of Cheetahs. Defendants retain pervasive control over the club operation as a whole, and the dancers' duties are a core, vital function of the operation."
In addition to dancers and the club being "economically dependent" on one another, dancers must follow strict guidelines, characteristic of an employee-employer relationship. Those guidelines include locker use, tipping policies, and style of dancing. Managers at the club also impact the dancers’ jobs by setting prices on private dances and selecting the music and overall theme.
"Hayes and class members' economic status is inextricably linked to those conditions over which [Cheetahs has] complete control. Ms. Hayes and other members of the class are completely dependent on [Cheetahs] for their earnings. In sum, the totality of the circumstances surrounding the employment relationship between [club] and the dancers...demonstrate that [the club] sets the terms and conditions of the class members' work — the hallmark of economic dependence."
Hayes estimates loss of wages and attorneys’ fees to be under $75,000; that amount will increase if additional dancers join the class-action lawsuit.
Cheetahs manager Rich Buontantony says, "The women are independent contractors. When we hire an entertainer, they are given the choice of being an employee or a space lessee, much like a hairdresser. As an independent contractor, the girl comes and goes as she pleases, basically does what she wants whereas, an employee comes in set hours, dances who we tell them to dance for, and so forth. The women I have here prefer to be independent contractors."