One doesn't readily think of exotic dancers when one considers the intended class of workers protected by the labor laws of our great land. But those who toil in in titty bars got rights too, pal! At least that's what Gretchen Bertram thinks. That's why she filed a federal class action lawsuit against a local "gentleman's club" called Visions for allegedly violating her rights under the Federal Labor Standards Act.
In her suit Bertram alleges that Visions, owned and operated by a man named-no lie-Ricky Edge, wrongfully considered Bertram and others similarly situated to be independent contractors who were paid only by a portion of the tips they earned from the "gentlemen" patrons for whom they performed instead of an hourly wage in violation of the FLSA. The lawsuit also alleges that Bertram and others similarly situated "dance in the club without very many clothes on." Which must have been a fun sentence for her lawyer to write.
I have never been to Visions or any other "gentleman's club." It's not that I am a prude or that I do not have an appreciation for women in scant attire. I just see no need to pay a cover charge and drink alcohol at stick-up prices to talk to women or to watch them dance.
Oh. Speaking of which, here's another amusing allegation from the Complaint. "The dance skills utilized (by the gals at Visions) are commensurate with those exercised by ordinary people who choose to dance at a disco or wedding." See Complaint at para. 46, as we lawyers say.
Maybe I am missing Gretchen's larger point but try as I might I do not recall seeing any lap dances during the reception after Meghann Crow's wedding over at Pleasant Valley Country Club last summer.
Anyway, what little I know about such matters came from an unlikely source: A reader of this blog. 4 or 5 years ago I started noticing comments to the blog posted by a woman named Sean. Her comments were typically funny and insightful. One day she sent me an e-mail in which she confessed to being a dancer at another "gentleman's club" in town. She asked me if she could give me a call.
"Absolutely," I wrote back.
"Sean"-which is not her real name-told me that she was going through a divorce and that she had recently lost her job as an office assistant. She and some girlfriends had gone to this particular joint on a lark one night. Sean told me she thought she could dance as well as the local talent up on the stage and decided to give it a whirl just to make some money to make ends meet until she could figure out her next step.
She would write me from time to time to tell me about life as an exotic dancer. She described her co-workers variously as a bunch of dumbasses or desperate girls with money or drug problems. Sean was in her thirties when she took up the pole which she said is pretty late in life as far as that line of work goes. Accordingly, she became a sort of mother figure to the other girls. And the older patrons of the joint tended to like to talk to her instead of the younger girls. Mostly it was depressing talk about their marriages. But hey! They were buying the drinks. And they didn't tend to be complete jerks like the younger guys. Speaking of which I always had a standing invitation to come out to the club to visit her. Just to provide a respite from the boredom. She said I wouldn't even have to buy her a drink.
I never took her up on it. I figured with my luck the place would get raided while I was there drinking my watery whiskey or I would get shot in the parking lot. Sean didn't dance for much longer anyway. She had been considering another line of work for no other reason than she was tired of listening to guys bitch about their wives. That and she had come to the realization that she was no longer sufficiently ingenue to wear 10 inch stiletto heels.
Last I heard of her she had moved back to a state out West where she was from originally. She had gotten a job with-no lie- the Department of Social Services. She was also thinking about selling cars. She thought her past relevant work experience gave her transferrable skills that would come in handy on the car lot.
One of the things Sean didn't complain about was the money. She thought dancing in a club was a silly kind of job to have. But she knew it was not her calling in life and besides she thought she was getting paid pretty good for doing something that kept her in shape. But she was lucky. She didn't have to do it for a living.
Now I don't know the first damn thing about the Fair Labor Standards Act so I am not in a position to assess whether Gretchen Bertram and other similarly situated hoofers have a case. But I am all for folks getting paid what they are entitled to under the law. And the discovery in this case should be interesting if not completely hilarious.
So I say: Pole dancers of Pulaski County, and other similarly situated Plaintiffs, unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains.