Suit Could Involve 5,000 Topless Dancers

Nov 3, 2009 1:00 PM PST
LAS VEGAS — Sapphire Gentleman's Club, which bills itself as the world's largest gentlemen's club with some 400 strippers nightly, could face a class-action lawsuit involving 5,000 current and former topless dancers if approved by a judge.

Monday's suit, filed at Clark County District Court on behalf of dancer Zuri-Kinshasa Maria Terry, said that the topless club’s rules governing working conditions are so wide that the dancers are considered employees — not independent contractors.

The suit said that Saphire’s dancers are entitled to regular wages and overtime.

Saphire Dancers are required to work a minimum number of hours — six or longer — per shift, according to the suit. It also says they are prohibited from leaving the premises during their shift, can't leave with customers, can't date or socialize with customers during their off hours and must entertain customers "according to means and methods prescribed by" management.

Dancers also must pay club managers and employees for the right to work at the club, charge minimum fixed fees for table and lap dances, promote sales of alcohol and other drinks, accept offers of drinks from customers, appear on stage to dance at fixed times, comply with a dress code and wear approved costumes and uniforms, the suit said.

"Such rules and regulations and control over the means and methods of dance and conditions of employment are not of the type imposed upon independent contractors," the suit said.

The suit seeks back pay for affected dancers, as well as former dancers who worked at Saphire within the past two years, and an order requiring the club to comply with Nevada wage and overtime requirements.

The suit was filed by attorney Robert Starr of Woodland Hills, Calif., who operates dancer-rights advocacy site ExoticDanceRights.com. Joining Starr are Tucson, Ariz., attorney Mick Rusing and Las Vegas attorneys Ryan Anderson and Thomas Christensen.

The suit against Sapphire follows a ruling by the Nevada Supreme Court last year allowing a similar class-action lawsuit against another topless club to proceed under state claims.

Last year's decision by Nevada justices involved clubs including Cheetah's, the Crazy Horse Too, What's Up, Olympic Gardens, Little Darlings and the Girls of Glitter Gulch.

The court rejected the defendants' argument that class-action minimum wage claims should be considered under the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act rather than the Nevada Wage and Hour Law.

Nevada's higher minimum wage legislation with its extra protections for worker wages is the appropriate law governing the dispute, justices said. The federal law permits an employer to credit an employee's tips against the federal minimum wage, while the Nevada law prohibits such offsets.

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