Shake It Off: Employer Misclassification of Exotic Dancers under the Fair Labor Standards Act

Recently, there’s been a wave of Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) rulings adverse to employers in the adult entertainment industry. Early this year, a Southern District of New York judge approved an $8 million settlement for a class of dancers at an adult establishment who alleged that they were misclassified as independent contractors. See In re: Penthouse Executive Club Compensation Litigation, Case No. 1:10-cv-01145, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 5864 (S.D.N.Y. Jan. 14, 2014). And just last month, the court in Hart, et al. v. Rick’s Cabaret Int’l, Inc., Case No. 1:09-cv-03043, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 160264 (S.D.N.Y. Nov. 14, 2014) which previously had held that dancers at the New York club were employees under the FLSA, denied a motion to decertify the class and awarded almost $11 million in damages to the dancers for FLSA violations.

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Strippers and the Fair Labor Standards Act: Lessons for All Employers

Late last month, in the Southern District of Florida, adult entertainers at several Rick’s Cabaret locations filed a lawsuit alleging that they were improperly categorized (and thus improperly compensated) as independent contractors rather than employees. See Espinoza, et al. v. Rick’s Cabaret Int’l, Inc., Case No. 1:13-cv-24565-UU. In light of recent decisions, Rick’s—like other employers classifying workers as independent contractors—should proceed with caution.

The past several months have seen a spate of rulings adverse to employers in the adult entertainment context. Early last year, a Southern District of New York judge approved an $8 million settlement for a class of dancers at another adult establishment who alleged that they were misclassified as independent contractors. See In re: Penthouse Executive Club Compensation Litigation, Case No. 1:10-cv-01145. In September 2013, in a different S.D.N.Y. case, the court in Hart, et al. v. Rick’s Cabaret Int’l, Inc. found that dancers at the New York club location were employees, not independent contractors, for purposes of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) and the New York Labor Law. And just last week a Northern District of Georgia judge who previously certified a class of adult entertainers who alleged they were wrongly classified as independent contractors granted the entertainers’ summary judgment motion with respect to their status as employees under the FLSA. See Stevenson, et al. v. The Great American Dream, Inc., No. 1:12-CV-3359-TWT.

In finding no independent contractor relationship in Hart, the court cited the existence of club guidelines that governed dancers’ dress/appearance (e.g., body glitter forbidden, 4-inch stiletto heels required), behavior in the club (e.g., gum chewing or using a cell phone on the dance floor prohibited), when dancers could be scheduled to work, various fees dancers were required to pay, and manner of performance (e.g., prohibition on more than one knee touching the ground when performing on stage). Of virtually no significance was the fact that there were signed agreements between dancers and Rick’s Cabaret expressing that the employment relationship was that of an independent contractor.

Irrespective of industry, companies that utilize independent contractors are well advised to periodically reexamine the economic realities of those relationships.

California Court of Appeal Says No to Class Certification of Independent Contractors

The California Court of Appeal has affirmed a trial court’s order denying class certification on the alleged misclassification of independent contractors. The Court of Appeal provides a lengthy analysis of ascertainability and predominance of common issues of law and fact under California’s class action laws.  Read More

The Price of Peace – Consulting Group Identifies Average Cost of Wage-and-Hour Class Settlements

It is no secret that the vast majority of wage-and-hour class actions are settled.  What is less clear is the going settlement rate.  Researchers from NERA, an economic consulting group, recently answered this question:  approximately $1,100 per plaintiff per class year.  Click here to view NERA’s full report. Read More