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Strippers sue club’s owners

Two entertainers are suing the owners of a Far-Westside strip club because they failed to pay them the minimum wage.

A manager for Dancers Show Club, one of more than a dozen such clubs in Indianapolis, called the lawsuit frivolous, but court documents offer a glimpse into some of the unusual business practices behind exotic dancing.

Wendi R. Morse, 27, and Felicia Kay Pennington, 26, claim Dancers Show Club owners violated federal labor laws by wrongly classifying them as independent contractors, according to a lawsuit filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court. The women’s lawyers are seeking class-action status.

The lawsuit says the women worked only for tips, received no wages from the club and paid various fees back to the business. At the same time, they had no control over their schedules, were barred from working at other clubs and, the suit says, generally treated as employees and not contractors.

Clubs across the United States have been classifying strippers as independent contractors since the 1990s, according to news stories, but one advocate said that system is designed to take advantage of the women.

“Good for the girls who are doing this,” said Mary Taylor, a Canadian author and business owner who worked as a stripper for 21 years at clubs throughout North America.

“It’s easy to get into for a lot of women, but they are getting ripped off by these club owners,” Taylor said. “They are holding them hostage.”

Taylor echoed key allegations of the lawsuit, saying club owners routinely treat entertainers as independents while telling them when to work and for how long, as well as taking a cut of their earnings.

“How can you be self-employed when somebody is telling you what to do and taking your money?” Taylor said. “They are employees. They should be entitled to all the benefits that an employee has.”

The fees are so high at some clubs that women may owe money after their shifts, Taylor said.

She applauded Morse and Pennington for having the courage to take on the clubs and said the women may face retaliation from club owners.

“They are probably going to get threatened that they’ll never work anywhere again,” Taylor said.

Lawsuits like this have seen success in California. San Francisco strippers who filed a similar lawsuit won a $2.85 million settlement from managers of the Mitchell Brothers O’Farrell Theater in 1994.

Morse and Pennington live in Marion County and performed at Dancers, 8013 W. Washington St., within the last three years, according to the suit. Morse and Pennington could not be reached for comment.

Philip J. Gibbons, one of the lawyers for the women, said the club classifies its dancers as contractors but exerts control over them as if they were employees. Gibbons is seeking class-action status on behalf of all the entertainers at Dancers.

“They don’t have a choice to just show up once a month,” Gibbons said. “The club sets requirements on when they need to be there and how long they have to stay.”

The club requires entertainers to pay a fee of up to $30 to the house, depending on what time they arrive. The club also takes a portion of the dancers’ tips for every VIP dance, which costs a client about $300, Gibbons said. A VIP dance is typically conducted in a separate room or booth for a specified time such as 30 minutes or an hour.

The entertainers also must give 10 percent of their tips to the disc jockey and 5 percent to the bartenders, Gibbons said.

The club, according to the suit, strictly controlled the times and minimum hours the entertainers could dance and barred them from working at other clubs.

“It’s a frivolous lawsuit, but we’ll see what happens,” said Dancers manager Jason Huddleson. He declined to comment further on the lawsuit and refused to say how many women work at the club.

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