Movers and shakers in the adult entertainment industry across the country, including in New York, Chicago and D.C., have been claiming the right to be paid for their work, and not just in tips. This trend has reached Philadelphia, where a case brought against The Penthouse Club in Port Richmond by one of its former dancers has rallying potential.
In late May, Priya Verma filed a federal lawsuit claiming the club was misclassifying her as an “independent contractor” — as opposed to an employee — in order to forgo paying her wages and overtime compensation. Verma claims that despite being payed only in tips, the club’s management controlled her work, taking advantage of the “wide disparity in bargaining power" between workers and club owners in the industry. Verma filed the lawsuit as a class action, though she is currently the only complainant. Yesterday, the club's manager dropped a motion to dismiss the case.
According to the complaint, The Penthouse Club enforces a host of fines on its dancers, including for being late ($10 per half hour), for entering the stage from the wrong side ($25), and even for chewing gum on stage ($25). Regular dancers are allegedly not allowed to perform in other clubs, and their appearance is scrutinized by management. Verma claims she was asked to “either wear a wig or get hair extensions.” The club’s manager, Brandon Silva, argued that the dancers merely rent out the space, where they bring their own clientele and working with “complete artistic freedom.”
But if Verma manages to prove that all these details are true, she has a good case, according Richard Reibstein, head of the Independent Contractor Compliance practice group at Pepper Hamilton, LLC. Strippers have been fighting the industry’s wage system in court for a couple of decades. But they have been ramping it up recently. “Over the last three years there’s been a rash of these types of cases,” said Reibstein. In May, Manhattan’s Penthouse Executive Club reached an $8 million settlement for over 1,000 dancers in a class-action case filed on similar grounds.
Philadelphia’s Penthouse Club. which already made news last year in a lawsuit involving a ruptured bladder and a lap dance, is decidedly not taking the gentlemanly route. About three weeks after filing the suit, Verma complained the club was distributing her name and personal information to customers. As a result, she said she received harassing phone calls and text messages, shirtless photos, and some anonymous flower bouquets creepily deposited at her door. Her motion for preliminary injunction against the club was accepted within a day.
“The judge’s ruling makes clear that there will be no negative consequences to coming forward to protect your rights,” said Gerald Wells, one of Verma’s attorneys. Yesterday, Silva withdrew the motion to dismiss the case.
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