Labor Laws: The New Bouncers for Exotic Dancers

By: Christina Plummer

On Tuesday a federal judge ruled that the exotic dancers at Rick’s Cabaret, a New York City strip club, are protected by labor laws.[1] This decision now allows the exotic dancers to be paid at least minimum wage.[2] Rick’s Cabaret tried to argue that the dancers are independent contractors, but judge Paul Engelmayer held that they were the “main attraction” and big contributor to the clubs success.[3] Rick’s also stated that they will be appealing this decision because they believe their workers make more than minimum wage, even if it is in singles.[4]

Many clubs in the United States have taken the same approach as Rick’s by classifying their dancers as independent contractors.[5] Does this court decision mean we will see a shift in how strippers are classified in the workplace? A Kansas State Supreme Court decided on the same issue February, holding that exotic dancers are considered employees. Also, in November, strippers at the Spearmint Rhino chain won in a federal court case that granted them employee status and $13 million.[6] However, the answer to whether or not there will be shift depends on the degree of control the club has over the dances.[7]

In the New York case, the degree of control can be seen in in the club imposing “entertainer guidelines” on the dancers, as well as subjecting them to fees and fines on the dancer’s tips.[8] One of these fees is called a “house fee” that the dancers had to pay nightly before they performed and hoped to make back by the end of the night.[9]

In the Milano’s Inc., the court also looked at certain facts to determine that the club controlled the activities of the dancers.[10] The court also held that the dancer’s tips qualified as wages under K.S.A. 44–703 (o). The dancers are employees under K.S.A. 44–703(i)(3)(D) because they received wages according to the Kansas’s statutes.[11] The court again looked at how the dancers had house rules regulating interactions with other dancers, rules setting minimum tips, and fines for violating those rules.[12] “The Supreme Court upheld decisions by the Labor Department and two lower courts, ruling that that the control that management exercised over the women’s activities requires them to be classified as employees instead of independent contractors.”[13]

The key to whether or not exotic dancers are employees or independent contractors seems to be in the hands of the club owners. If they are going to be greedy, exercise power and mandate regulations, the dancers will be considered employees, be protected under labor laws, and are entitled to minimum wages. If the club owners want to give the dancers more freedom, not fine them, and charge house fees then they may be deemed independent contractors and don’t need to play them minimum wages. The choice is up the owners at this point to either lose money by giving up fees and fines or lose money by paying minimum wages.


[1] Associated Press, Ruling: NYC Club Strippers Protected by Labor Laws, Wall St. J (Sept. 11, 2013), http://online.wsj.com/article/APd82669658edb42ec944b1c0042e211a4.html#articleTabs%3Darticle.

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] Bryan Preston, Strippers Win Battle for Minimum Wage, PJ Media (Sept. 12, 2013), http://pjmedia.com/tatler/2013/09/12/strippers-win-battle-for-minimum-wage/.

[6] Fox, supra note 5.

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] Milano’s, Inc., 293 P. 3d at 709

[11] Id. at 709

[12] Id. at 709

[13] Dion Lefler, Strippers Ruled as Employees in Kansas Decision, The Kan. City star (Feb. 4 2013), http://www.kansascity.com/2013/02/03/4047438/exotic-dancers-ruled-as-employees.html

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