A former exotic dancer has filed a federal lawsuit against the owners and managers of the Cheetah Pensacola strip club that claims she and other dancers were unfairly compensated for their work.
The suit claims exotic dancers at the Cheetah were deliberately misclassified as independent contractors as opposed to employees, allowing club management to duck mandatory minimum wage and overtime provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act.
Furthermore, the filing asserts that the owners and managers illegally took dancers’ individually earned tips to subsidize other non-dancer employees and demanded illegal “kickbacks” that dancers were required to pay to continue dancing at the establishment.
The case currently lists a single plaintiff, Shakeena Rice, who danced at the strip club at 3121 W. Navy Blvd. for approximately three years between 2015 and 2018.
However, the lawsuit was filed as a collective action, meaning that all current and former exotic dancers who worked at the club in the past three years are eligible to join the suit as additional plaintiffs.
If that were to occur, court records state the group of dancers would collectively “seek to recover double damages for failure to pay minimum wage, overtime liquidated damages, interest and attorney fees.”
Rice’s attorney, John Kristensen, filed the lawsuit July 29 against the club’s parent company, Mr. T’s Inc., formerly doing business as Lookers Lounge and also known as the Cheetah, and two individual club managers, Terry L. Thomas and Clifford G. McGehee.
The News Journal attempted to contact the defendants but had not received replies to several emails for comment as of Thursday evening.
Kristensen, whose personal law practice is based in California, told the News Journal that he has worked on several similar cases throughout the country.
“Here’s the deal,” he said. “Twenty-plus federal district courts and circuit courts have all ruled that dancers are employees. The dancers don’t set the prices. They (the management) control the hours they work by penalizing them for when they show up and when they leave.”
Kristensen added that, in his view, the practices of strip club proprietors are distinctly un-American.
“They actually make them pay to go work,” he said. “They call it a house fee. I call it a kickback, and actually, a federal judge does, too. Then, they force them to subsidize their other employees.”
According to the lawsuit, Rice was required to share her tips with managers, disc jockeys, “house moms,” bartenders and bouncers.
“I don’t know another industry where you make one employee subsidize your payroll to pay another employee,” Kristensen said. “So they (strip club managers) are all into forced subsidization, which is antagonistic to the entire idea of America.”
A provision of the Fair Labor Standards Act dictating compensation practices for “tipped” employees, such as waiters and exotic dancers, requires employers to pay them a minimum of $2.13 per hour.
The lawsuit claims that Rice and an estimated 100 other dancers who have worked at the Pensacola club in the past five years did not receive $2.13 per hour due to their classification as contractors.
“Plaintiff was compensated exclusively through tips from Defendants’ customers,” stated court records. The lawsuit claims Rice’s and the other dancers’ tips were put into a tip pool without ever being “made aware of how the tip credit allowance worked or what the amounts to be credited were.”
Furthermore, the lawsuit alleges that Cheetah’s management failed to keep records of wages, tips, gratuities received or paid by entertainers or fines for failing to comply with management’s rules.
Rice was not allotted overtime in the form of a time-and-a-half hourly salary when she was “required to work and entertain its customers for longer than eight hours per shift,” the lawsuit stated.
“Plaintiff was not paid an hourly minimum wage for the typical 20 minutes of time expended prior to each shift to get ready for work, including applying makeup and hair to comply with the defendants’ dress and appearance standards,” the lawsuit continued.
Rice also claims she had to pay for her own work outfits and “estimates that she spent approximately $500 annually on makeup, hair-related expenses and outfits,” the lawsuit stated.
Colin Warren-Hicks can be reached at [email protected] or 850-435-8680.