Up to 1,000 exotic dancers could recoup back pay from topless nightclubs in South Carolina if a federal court agrees they are entitled to wages from the clubs, in addition to the tips they earned from customers.
That information surfaced Thursday during a court hearing to determine if a lawsuit filed by about a dozen strippers could be expanded to cover other dancers in the Columbia and Greenville areas.
While the case is far from resolved, U.S. District Judge Joseph Anderson agreed to certify the matter as a “class action,” meaning other dancers could be notified that they can join the case.
The lawsuit, filed this past spring, provides insight into a long-standing practice at some strip clubs of not paying dancers who perform there.
By policy, those dancers earn their revenue from tips, and in some cases, must share some of those tips with other nightclub staffers and pay a house fee to the club, attorneys said.
Nightclubs consider dancers to be independent contractors, rather than club employees, meaning they receive no direct pay or worker's compensation coverage from the club, or other benefits. The dancers work when they want to, not at the clubs' direction, and they can charge what they want to customers who will pay, said lawyers for the nightclubs.
But dancers who filed suit say exotic performers are employees of the clubs. They are expected to be there to perform and are the reason the clubs are in existence. They say they should be paid minimum wage, which would entitle them to worker's compensation and other protections provided to people employed in other industries.
“This is going really well,” dancer Kaleigh Dittus said during a break in Thursday’s hearing in Columbia.
Upstate attorney David Rothstein, who represents Dittus, estimated that 200 dancers each at a handful of different clubs in Greenville and Columbia could benefit if his case is successful. He said the total number could be “many hundreds,” possibly up to 1,000 dancers.
It is unclear how much in back pay the exotic dancers could receive, if successful. Attorney Chris Lauderdale, who represents the nightclubs, declined to speculate on how much it would cost the topless lounges to pay wages.
The lawsuit is against Platinum Plus in Greenville, Platinum Plus in Columbia and Platinum West in West Columbia. A fourth club, Heartbreakers in Columbia, closed earlier this year, but dancers from that night spot also could be included in any awards.
Anderson questioned whether some dancers would want to join the case, thinking they could earn more in tips without being classified as employees. Lauderdale said some dancers he’s spoken with were “very adamant” about the revenues they bring in now.
But Rothstein said the case, if successful, would not prevent topless dancers from earning tips, which can be hundreds of dollars per night.
Instead, it would allow them to also be paid the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. The dancers would not have to give back any of their previous earnings if Rothstein wins the case, he said.