Another exotic dancer has sued another Wisconsin strip club over how she was paid — or not paid — to perform, suggesting she and her peers are really employees who get exploited as independent contractors.
In a federal wage lawsuit, Debra Weiss names Texas Jay’s North — the one in Birnamwood, east of Wausau, not the one in Milwaukee — as the defendant, along with owner John A. Urban and several unknown John Does.
Urban did not return a reporter’s phone call Thursday.
Like similar cases, it alleges that Texas Jay’s North failed to pay Weiss and other dancers minimum wage and overtime pay, and illegally kept portions of their tips to pay other club staff.
Despite the ongoing litigation, most strip clubs still try to classify dancers as independent contractors and not as employees, raising questions of control, opportunities to share in profit and loss, dancers’ integral role in the business and what skill level is required, issues at the heart of debates over other gig economy jobs like take out food delivery.
Weiss seeks to collect double back wages and other damages not only for herself, but all the other women who danced at the club over the past three years.
In her suit, Weiss lists the arrangement she said was common at Texas Jay’s while she worked there from 2017 to 2020:
“The primary duty of an entertainer is to dance and entertain customers and give them a good experience. Specifically, an entertainer performs stage and table dances, and entertains customers on an hourly basis,” according to the suit.
“Stated differently, entertainers dance on stage, perform table dances, and entertain customers in VIP rooms, all while semi-nude.”
Dancers were not paid by the club at all, only via tips from customers, but were forced to share the tips with bouncers, bartenders, and DJs. The suit says Weiss spent two hours on her hair, makeup and appearance before shifts, time for which she received no compensation.
Weiss is represented by John Kristensen of Los Angeles. He said he has filed similar actions and won money for dancers around the country. He said more than three dozen federal court decisions have gone in favor of dancers as employees, not independent contractors, but most clubs continue the imbalanced hiring model.
“The clubs are willing to risk litigation,” he said. “They’re making too much money.”
Lawyers who represent club owners advise it is a good thing that dancers can have nights where they lose money — say not enough tips to cover the house fee or stage rent they’re charged to perform — because that weighs in favor of them acting as independent contractors.
A Miami woman recently won $6,500 in a settlement of a suit she filed against the former Art’s Performing Center, a strip club in downtown Milwaukee.
Another dancer’s 2016 case against a Peshtigo strip club also later settled, but no details were disclosed in court records.