Strippers at Houston’s Polekatz club must be paid like regular employees, federal judge rules

A federal judge has ruled that a group of Houston strippers at Polekatz club must be treated as regular employees rather than making their living off tips they’re expected to share with co-workers.

The labor lawsuit, brought on behalf of more than 20 dancers, many of whom have worked at the club on Westheimer near Hillcroft for years, says the strippers didn’t earn an hourly wage. They only took home tip money which they were required to share with other non-dancers. The club also skimmed off a “house fee,” essentially charging them for the right to work. The club owners said neither the house fee nor the sharing of tip money was mandatory, according to court records.

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The nightclub managers considered the dancers individual contractors, rather than employees, because they were allowed to work for other clubs. They said in court documents that the sports games the club streamed were the main attraction for customers.

In his ruling Tuesday, US District Judge Andrew S. Hanen said the dancers should be considered employees and be paid wages in keeping with the Fair Labor Standards Act, he wrote.

The lawyer representing the club, Albert Thomas Van Huff, said he expects to go to trial over the damages later this year in federal court in Houston.

Jarrett L. Elzey, one of the lawyers for the Houston women, said he expects the total damages could reach hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The lawsuit is one of many such actions around the country seeking fair pay for exotic dancers. Elzey has brought similar cases at a number of clubs. Ellzey previously told the Chronicle club owners around the country tend to follow the same pattern of forcing disadvantaged women to pay to work at a club, illegally classifying them as independent contractors and failing to pay them mandatory wages for the hours they work. He told the Houston Chronicle Thursday the ruling could be used as legal precedent in future cases beyond just the adult entertainment industry.

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Three women initially filed the case and at least 20 others opted in when it became a class-action. These additional plaintiffs were dismissed from the suit because the company said they had signed an “entertainer application,” which specified they had agreed to work as independent contractors.

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