Dancers file class action suit against Atlanta strip club

An Atlanta strip club is being sued in federal court for allegedly violating federal labor laws, denying minimum wage or overtime pay and forcing exotic dancers to pay “kick-backs” to work.

Chandra Cook filed the class-action lawsuit late last month on behalf of roughly 50 fellow exotic dancers who work or previously worked at Pleasers in southwest Atlanta.

The open-ended civil complaint allows more dancers to opt in to the accusation that Pleasers owners Darius Mitchell and Paul Hicks knowingly skirted the federal Fair Labor Standards Act.

“Indeed, not only did they fail to pay a single penny in wages, they tricked the plaintiff and all others similarly situated into paying each of them to work at Pleasers,” the complaint says.

Neither Hicks nor Mitchell could be reached for comment on Wednesday.

This is the second federal lawsuit filed in October against a metro Atlanta adult club. Amanda Berry sued Pin Ups in DeKalb County claiming similar labor violations, and also that club managers fired her for being pregnant.

Cook worked at Pleasers from October 2010 to October 2012, and filed her lawsuit last month, roughly a week after reports of the Pin Ups lawsuit.

In the Pleasers complaint, as with the one Berry filed, Cook’s attorney claims that the club management falsely characterized the exotic dancers working there as “independent contractors.”

Cook and other dancers were only paid by tips from customers, and often worked more than 40 hours in a week, according to the complaint.

“Defendants knew, or showed reckless disregard for the fact that they misclassified these individuals as independent contractors, and accordingly failed to pay these individuals the minimum wage and failed to pay overtime at the required rate under the FLSA,” the lawsuit says.

University of Georgia law professor Ronald Carlson, who reviewed the Pin Ups lawsuit, said federal complaints like this raise serious questions about the work status of adult entertainers.

“Factors to be examined in distinguishing between ‘independent contractor’ versus ‘employee’ are the degree of control exercised by the alleged employer, degree to which the employee’s income is determined by the employer, and permanency of the relationship,” Carlson said via email. “Many of the cases under the Fair Labor Standards Act which deal with tips concern whether the tips a person receives will be treated as wages, and that often depends on the contract (written or oral) between performer and employer.”

Dancers’ work hours, time and manner of dancing, attire and customer interaction with customers was regulated by the owners, and dancers were required to attend meetings at the club without being paid for their time there, the lawsuit claims.

And the complaint said owners required dancers to pay a “bar fee” that varied in amounts in order to work at any time, with the fee starting at $35 and increasing $10 for every hour after 8 p.m., according to the complaint.

Additional fines were charged to dancers who were late to work, absent for a scheduled shift or deemed to have violated any of the club’s rules, the lawsuit claims.

“The fees … constitute unlawful ‘kickbacks’ to the employer within the meaning of the Fair Labor Standards Act,” the lawsuit claims.

A similar 2009 lawsuit against Galardi South Enterprises, the owners of Atlanta adult club The Onyx, was settled in December, paying 73 current and former dancers $1.55 million, or roughly $21,233 per dancer, according to court records.

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