Under flashing neon green and purple lights, a busty dancer whips her blond hair and grinds against a pole, her bikini top pulled up to her collarbone. It’s "Tip Out Saturday" at Club Climaxxx, a gentleman’s club in North Miami-Dade, and hordes have come to see buxom dancers strip and strut to hip-hop and the chants of DJ Cuttaman.
But not everyone is a fan of Club Climaxxx's approach to the erotic arts. One of the club’s former dancers, Cortney Wallace, is suing the club as well as its consulting company, Nightlife Solutions Inc., for $65,000 in back pay, lost wages, and unpaid overtime she says the company owes her.
The lawsuit is just the latest in a trend of Florida exotic dancers suing to recoup wages, which are often paid out only in tips; a Key West club agreed to pay $1.2 million last year, while Hallandale's Scarlett's Cabaret ponied up $6 million to settle another suit.
Wallace, a 27-year-old from North Miami Beach, says she joined Club Climaxxx in mid-April last year. (Both Club Climaxxx and Nightlife Solutions Inc. declined to comment for this story.) Open from noon to 5 a.m., Club Climaxxx offers full bottle service, pool tables, and hookah. Customers pay $10 for admission and can reserve private sections for bachelor parties, bachelorette parties, and birthdays.
According to Wallace’s lawyer, Brian Militzok, the club required Wallace to work eight hours a day, five days a week without breaks, and she averaged 20 hours every month in overtime, “for which Ms. Wallace is entitled time-and-a-half.” After 14 months of employment, though, “zero checks were exchanged,” he says.
Wallace made about $1,000 a week in tips, but her attorney says the club never paid Wallace her wages, neglecting the state’s minimum of $5.03 for tipped employees in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act. Militzok says the club also levied fines on the dancers.
“Ms. Wallace and other dancers would be fined for any infraction, such as leaving before their shift was up and grooming issues such as hair not being perfect and her body not being fully shaved.” Militzok says he’s heard of other cases across South Florida similar to Wallace’s.
“It’s industry-wide,” he says. “These clubs classify their dancers as ‘independent contractors' who are renting space to dance, instead of ‘employees,’ so that they don’t have to pay minimum wage or overtime.”
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Judges have recently sided with the strippers and declared several clubs in violation of the FLSA. In Hallandale, the dancers filed a class-action lawsuit against Scarlett's, alleging they'd been required to pay performance fees such as $55 for leasing club space to dance, $20 for the DJ and $3 to $5 for the security guard. The court awarded them $6 million in lost wages.
Since then, in other cases across Florida, judges have demanded that clubs give their dancers employee benefits such as workers’ compensation and unemployment insurance. Two days ago, Militzok submitted an amended complaint to include an additional charge of retaliation.
Wallace alleged that she had spoken to one of the club managers — a man by the alias “Chunky” — about her wages and was immediately fired, a violation of the FLSA’s anti-retaliation provision.
“It’s obviously a club-wide issue,” Militzok says, “so we’re definitely hoping other dancers will opt in on the lawsuit.”