Strippers sue Colorado nightclub in labor dispute

Four former exotic dancers at a Denver-area strip club sued the bar’s owner on Tuesday, claiming that instead of being paid an hourly wage they were instead charged fees to perform and made to work for tips that they had to share with other workers.

Chada Mantooth, Gale Raffaele, Alexis Nagle and Nicole Bujok allege in a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Denver that they were required to pay the club for stage time, and were assessed extra fees to dance during more lucrative late-night shifts.

The lawsuit against the adult nightclub Shotgun Willie's in the Denver suburb of Glendale was the latest in a series of legal actions filed in Colorado by Denver lawyer Mari Newman on behalf of strippers in area clubs.

“This is yet another case about the exploitation of one of the most vulnerable groups of employees: young women working as dancers in adult entertainment establishments,” the lawsuit says.

The complaint names Shotgun Willie’s and its owner, Debra Matthews, as defendants.  A message left for Matthews was not immediately returned.

In it, the women say they were improperly classified as independent contractors so the club could flout federal and state minimum wage and overtime laws, despite court rulings that have ruled dancers in adult clubs are entitled to such protections.

The women worked entirely on gratuities from customers which they were then required to split with bouncers, disc jockeys and other club employees, the lawsuit said. They are seeking “unpaid back wages, overtime pay, fees, shared tips, fines and all other unlawful kickbacks,” according to the lawsuit.

In March, Newman filed a similar lawsuit in Denver federal court against VCG Holding Corp., which owns strip clubs in seven states, including several in Colorado.

Newman said is seeking class action status for both of the Colorado lawsuits, which requires a judge’s approval.

She said in a telephone interview Tuesday that the adult entertainment industry nationwide needs to be held accountable for taking advantage of young women who are struggling to make a living.

“If I have to do it club-by-club, so be it,” she said.  “No matter what one thinks of their job, everyone deserves to be paid for their work.”

(Editing by Sharon Bernstein)