Mississippi Strippers' Wage Lawsuit Still Has Legs

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By Kevin McGowan

Nov. 17 — Dancers at a Mississippi strip club may pursue a Fair Labor Standards Act collective lawsuit alleging they are “employees” entitled to minimum wages and overtime pay, a federal district court decided ( Brooks v. Illusions, Inc. , 2016 BL 382033, S.D. Miss., No. 16-31, 11/16/16 ).

Entertainers at adult night clubs in recent years have been challenging their designations as independent contractors and arguing they should be considered employees because the clubs closely control their working conditions and hours.

Some courts have looked favorably on such workers’ claims, deciding that dancers are employees entitled to pay under the FLSA and state laws even if they signed agreements that say they are contractors.

For example, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in June ruled dancers at a Maryland establishment were employees rather than independent contractors. The Labor Department in that case filed a brief supporting the dancers’ legal arguments.

Lenient Standard Satisfied

In the Mississippi case, Ashley Brooks and two other dancers alleged Illusions Inc., which operates the club, wrongly classified them as independent contractors not covered by the FLSA.

They sought to represent an “opt in” class of similarly situated current or former dancers for Illusions.

The dancers satisfied a “fairly lenient standard” for conditional certification of an FLSA collection action, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi said Nov. 16.

The club argued the dancers aren’t “similarly situated” because the plaintiffs themselves said stripping is the “artistic removal of clothing.” The club said that means what each dancer does is unique and differs from her co-workers’ duties.

Differing performance styles don’t mean the dancers aren’t similar enough to pursue a group lawsuit, Judge Keith Starrett said.

“All the dancers were subject to the same contract and performed the same type of duties, even if they put their own ‘artistic expressions’ into their acts,” the court said.

Court-approved notices approved now will be sent to other current or former Illusions dancers inviting them to join in the lawsuit. After the notice period is completed, Illusions will have another opportunity to argue an FLSA collective action isn’t appropriate.

An attorney representing Illusions Nov. 17 declined to comment on the ruling.

Joel F. Dillard in Jackson, Miss., represented the dancers. Anders Ferrington in Jackson represented Illusions Inc. and its corporate president.

To contact the reporter on this story: Kevin McGowan in Washington at kmcgowan@bna.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Peggy Aulino at maulino@bna.com; Terence Hyland at thyland@bna.com

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