Keep New Times Free

Strippers Sue Over Alleged Unpaid Tips and Wages

Three Valley strip clubs are being sued by exotic dancers with the help of a Texas law firm over alleged unpaid tips and wages.

The various plaintiffs in the cases are being represented by Kennedy Hodges LLP of Houston, which is engaged in dozens of similar cases across the United States.

Dancer Merry Mears filed suit this week in federal court against the Great Alaskan Bush Company and its owner, Damian Hartze. Last month, Mears, Shannon Starr and Deynonna Wallace sued the Bliss Show Club and its owner, Anthony Dellheim. Last year, Allyson Kesley launched a suit against Christie's Cabaret clubs, which has locations in Tempe, Phoenix, Glendale, and in other states.

See also: -Arizonans' Freedom to Interact With Strippers May Stay Safe This Year

Lawyer David Hodges tells New Times that if the clubs followed federal labor law, their dancers would make more money.

Under the current system at the targeted clubs, dancers work as independent contractors, not employees, he explains. They pay a sliding house fee for the "privilege" of dancing at the clubs, and must pool their tips to be split among non-dancing club employees.

As the lawsuits relate, the dancers have to adhere to a number of rules that makes them seem more like employees: They "hired/fired, issued pay, supervised, directed, disciplined, scheduled and performed all other duties generally associated with that of an employer with regard to the dancers. In addition, Defendants instructed the dancers about when, where, and how they were to perform their work."

It's a "misnomer" that the strippers make big bucks on tips for table dances and stage work, Hodges says. While some of the top women can earn a lot, most don't -- and some even end up owing money when they don't make enough in tips during a night to cover their house fee, he says.

Hodges' firm and the strippers are suing to make the strippers official employees. Their new system would be similar to that of restaurant wait staff, who typically earn a sub-minimum salary (Arizona allows as low as $3 an hour for tipped employees) while pooling tips among their fellow workers. If no customers come in, the staff is still guaranteed to make at least minimum wage, plus time-and-a-half for any overtime worked.

Rex Brasher, the Memphis-based attorney representing Christie's Cabaret clubs, says that the Hodges law firm "is doing these ladies a great disservice."

Exotic dancers often make several thousand dollars in a night and they've "historically" preferred to remain independent contractors.

"Frankly, a lot of them, they don't pay taxes," Brasher says. Some of the dancers named as plaintiffs in these cases are continuing to work as contractors for other strip clubs "but don't want to rock the boat" at those places.

If the dancers' lawsuits are successful, "they'll be making a helluva lot less money," Brasher maintains.

I Support
  • Local
  • Community
  • Journalism
  • logo

Support the independent voice of Phoenix and help keep the future of New Times free.

Hodges declined to allow his clients to be interviewed.

Got a tip? Send it to: Ray Stern.

Follow Valley Fever on Twitter at @ValleyFeverPHX. Follow Ray Stern on Twitter at @RayStern.

Keep Phoenix New Times Free... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Phoenix with no paywalls.

We use cookies to collect and analyze information on site performance and usage, and to enhance and customize content and advertisements. By clicking 'X' or continuing to use the site, you agree to allow cookies to be placed. To find out more, visit our cookies policy and our privacy policy.


Join the New Times community and help support independent local journalism in Phoenix.


Join the New Times community and help support independent local journalism in Phoenix.