Las Vegas Sun

July 20, 2018

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Topless club hit with lawsuit over dancer wages

Sun Coverage

A topless nightclub in Las Vegas was hit with a class-action lawsuit Monday claiming its dancers aren't really independent contractors -- and instead are employees entitled to regular wages and overtime.

The suit against Sapphire Gentleman's Club follows a ruling by the Nevada Supreme Court last year allowing a similar class-action lawsuit against another topless club to proceed under state law claims.

Monday's suit was filed in Clark County District Court on behalf of dancer Zuri-Kinshasa Maria Terry by lawyers including Robert Starr of Woodland Hills, Calif., who has a Web site called exoticdancerrights.com.

Also involved in the suit is Tucson attorney Mick Rusing, who was involved in the case resulting in last year's Supreme Court decision. Local lawyers involved in Monday's case are Thomas Christensen and Ryan Anderson of the Christensen Law office.

If certified as a class-action, the lawsuit says it could represent some 5,000 Sapphire dancers, including current and future dancers as well as those who danced at the club full or part-time during the past two years.

Sapphire bills itself as the world's largest gentlemen's club with some 400 dancers nightly.

While independent contractor arrangements are the standard practice in the industry, the lawsuit claims Sapphire has so many rules governing the dancers' working conditions that they don't qualify as independent contractors.

Dancers, for instance, are required to work a minimum number of hours -- six or longer -- per shift, the suit claims. It says they are prohibited from leaving the premises during their shift, can't leave with customers, can't date or socialize with customers during their off hours and must entertain customers "according to means and methods prescribed by" management.

They must pay club managers and employees for the right to work at the club, charge minimum fixed fees for table and lap dances, promote sales of alcohol and other drinks, accept offers of drinks from customers, appear on stage to dance at fixed times, comply with a dress code and wear approved costumes and uniforms, the suit charges.

Failure to follow the rules will result in suspension or termination, the lawsuit charges.

"Such rules and regulations and control over the means and methods of dance and conditions of employment are not of the type imposed upon independent contractors," charges the suit, which seeks back pay for the affected dancers and an order requiring the club to comply with Nevada wage and overtime requirements.

Shai Cohen, marketing director of the club, had no immediate comment on the suit Monday night.

Last year's Supreme Court ruling came in a case dating to 1997 that over the years involved clubs including Cheetah's, the Crazy Horse Too, What's Up, Olympic Gardens, Little Darlings and the Girls of Glitter Gulch.

In a ruling titled Jane Roe Dancer I-VII vs. Golden Coin Ltd., doing business as Girls of Glitter Gulch, the court ruled Rusing could proceed with a class-action under state law claims.

The court rejected the defendants' argument that class-action minimum wage claims should be considered under the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act rather than the Nevada Wage and Hour Law.

Nevada's higher minimum wage legislation with its extra protections for worker wages is the appropriate law governing the dispute, the court said.

The different laws are important in the case because the federal law permits an employer to credit an employee's tips against the federal minimum wage, while the Nevada law prohibits such offsets, the court said.

The parties agreed to the dismissal of the Girls of Glitter Gulch case after last year's Supreme Court ruling -- but Rusing is back with similar claims against the industry with the suit Monday against Sapphire.

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