Strippers required to pay table fees, private room fees and per-song fees.
A company that owns strip clubs across Denver and the U.S. gets a piece of every dollar strippers make and even that is not enough, according to a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Denver.
Georgina Santich also had to pay bouncers and disc jockeys. Instead of getting paid a wage, Santich actually had to pay Denver PT’s Showclub to take off her clothes. And after working for the club for nine years, when Santich failed to meet the company’s appearance standards, she was fired.
Santich is the named plaintiff in a class-action lawsuit filed Friday by Denver civil rights attorneys Mari Newman, Darold Killmer and Andy McNulty. A federal judge must certify the lawsuit as a class action. The class encompasses more than 500 women, the lawsuit says.
“This case highlights the exploitation of one of the most vulnerable groups of employees, young women working as dancers in adult entertainment establishments,” Newman said in a statement. “This is a predatory business that preys on young women who it hopes will be powerless to speak up because of society’s stigmatization of the work they are doing.”
The lawsuit was filed against VCG Holding Corp. of Lakewood; Lowrie Management and Denver Restaurant Concepts. It seeks reimbursement for unpaid back wages, overtime pay, fees and shared tips on behalf of strippers who performed at the company’s clubs the past three years.
“(Santich) and other class members were … obligated to support themselves exclusively through the tips received from customers for performing exotic stage, table, lap, topless, nude and/or VIP room dances,” the lawsuit says.
PT’s Showclub essentially required strippers to pay them illegal “kickbacks” and fines to strip clubs that illegally misclassified the dancers as independent contractors, the lawsuit says.
VCG owns five strip clubs in Denver and 10 strip clubs in California, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine and North Carolina. The Denver clubs include La Boheme, The Penthouse Club, PT’s All Nude, the Diamond Cabaret & Steakhouse and PT’s Showclub, the lawsuit says.
“Defendants’ business model is predicated entirely on the exploitation of (Santich) and other class members in order for the companies and their owners to earn a profit,” the lawsuit says.
The fees, fines, additional fees and charges added up — so much so that strippers often recouped less than minimum wage, the lawsuit says.
Strippers have to pay “house fees” to the club ranging from $30 to $60 each night depending on their time slot. The higher fees are paid for premium late-night time slots, the lawsuit says. Santich was required to use valet parking at $5 a night and because she didn’t have access to drinking water, she had to pay $6 for bottled water.
The club employs someone whose job is to count how many songs a disk jockey played while Santich stripped, to ensure she would pay a $5-per-song fee, the lawsuit says. The fees could add up to $100 a night, the lawsuit says. Strippers had to pay the club $5 of the $20 table dance fee, the lawsuit says. The dancers also absorbed 50 percent of the cost of promotional fees.
She had to pay $150 an hour to the club when she danced in a VIP room, which costs clients $450 an hour. Strippers who failed to dance on stage on schedule were fined $50. When Santich worked 12 hours a day, she was not paid overtime, the lawsuit says.
“Defendants reaped the benefits of the substantial profits from door charges and drink sales without paying plaintiff and class members a wage,” the lawsuit says.
The strip clubs violate the federal Fair Standards Labor Act, the Colorado Labor Code and the Colorado Minimum Wage Act, the lawsuit says. For example, workers are entitled to all of their tips by law.
Strippers had to wear approved outfits and high heels at all times. They were forbidden from using lotion, gels or glitter during performances, the lawsuit says.
Strippers do not have the skills required to elevate their status as independent contractors, the lawsuit says. They were not selected based on their dancing experience or skill, it says.
PT’s Showclub fired Santich on Feb. 13 after working at the club for nine years when she did not meet the club’s physical appearance requirements.