They were exotic dancers, but they were also workers, just like the rest of us. Alexis Alex and Nicolette Prieto formerly danced at Tiffany’s Cabaret, a gentleman’s club. They claimed they were not paid minimum wage. The employer’s records did not record their time. But, the club’s strongest defense was that the money paid them by patrons during table dances was a “service charge.” The club sought to count that as part of their wages. But, the dancers believed that money was tips. During the trial, the judge agreed with the dancers, a critical legal victory for the two ladies. The club’s second defense was that the two dancers were paid a few hundred dollars every night by patrons. But, countered the two workers, that money was paid directly by the customers, not by the club. Basic Fair Labor Standards Act law requires the employer to pay minimum wage, not the customers.
After a three day trial, the jury agreed with the two women and awarded $125,000 in lost wages. The judge then awarded liquidated damages of another $125,000. In awarding liquidated damages, the judge explained that the club’s actions were intentional. The club owners relied on 20 year advice from its accountants regarding the money paid during the table dances. Later, the court will also award attorney’s fees and court costs. I am sure the club owners now wish they had been more serious about trying to settle this case. A class action against the same club is still pending. See San Antonio Express News report here (account required).
Apparently at the conclusion of the trial, the lawyer for the club said the club would appeal the verdict. Replied Judge Lamberth, visiting from Washington, D.C., “I’ll offer you at least a beer” if the attorney is able to win an appeal.