The reach of wage hour laws extends even into topless go-go bars, as a recent case has, perhaps humorously, demonstrated. In a case entitled Chaves v. King Arthur’s Lounge Inc. a Massachusetts court has ruled that so-called exotic dancers who performed in a local strip club were employees, not independent contractors. Thus, they were due, at least, the state minimum wages and overtime compensation from their employer.
The nightclub, King Arthur’s Lounge, had contended that the dancers were not employees and thus not entitled to minimum wage and overtime. The state court judge not only rejected this argument, she also certified the lawsuit as a class action.
To add insult to injury, not only did the club not pay any compensation to the dancers, it also actually charged each of the dancers the sum of $35 per night for the “opportunity” to dance and earn tips from patrons. The employer defended by claiming that its primary business was selling food and liquor; the judge noted that the employer sought to posit its use of the dancers as “a form of entertainment it provides for its patrons, akin to the televisions and pool tables in a sports bar.”
The judge quickly rejected that attempt, ruling that “a court would need to be blind to human instinct to decide that live nude entertainment was equivalent to the wallpaper of routinely-televised matches, games, tournaments and sports talk.” She also concluded that “the dancers were an integral part of the company’s business and were therefore more likely to be employees than independent contractors.” The judge continued, holding that “in an age of electronic and Internet access to a wide variety of adult media, exotic dancing is unlikely to offer a commercial opportunity – over the long term—that would rise to an independently established trade for occupation.”
This case highlights the fact that every employer must carefully evaluate the circumstances of their engagement of individuals to perform services for them. If the services are, as herein, an integral component of the employer’s business, or if too much control is exerted by the employer, or the individual does not perform these services for anyone else, then that individual is likely an employee, not an independent contractor.
The fact that they may dance around a pole does not change this analysis.