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Federal lawsuit over strip club wages could include Maine dancers

PT's Showclub, a strip club on Riverside Street in Portland, tries to lure customers in with its St. Patrick's Day sign on Friday. A lawsuit filed on March 10 is seeking class-action status on behalf of all the dancers against VCG Holding Corp., which owns PT. (Troy Bennett | BDN)

PORTLAND, Maine (BDN) -- A Colorado firm that owns a strip club in Maine has been sued in federal court in Denver by a former dancer who claims management exploits strippers by requiring them to pay fees in order to work and violates labor laws by refusing to pay minimum wages and overtime.

Mari Newman, the Denver attorney who represents Georgina Santich, a former dancer who worked for nine years at a Denver club, said Monday that she has been contacted by women in Maine about their experiences as dancers at the Portland club. They could join the lawsuit, according to Newman.

VCG Holding Corp. owns PT’s Showclub, located at 200 Riverside St. in Portland, and more than a dozen strip clubs in seven other states. The lawsuit, filed on March 10, is seeking class-action status on behalf of all the dancers.

The receptionist at the VCG headquarters in Lakewood, Colorado, said Tuesday morning that she had been instructed to tell callers that the company has no comment on the pending litigation.

If the case is granted class-action status, the lawsuit would cover company’s current and some former performers, going back three years. Newman estimated that more than 500 women might be eligible to join the class. The attorney said she is not aware whether the firm offered shows with male dancers.

“This case highlights the exploitation of one of the most vulnerable groups of employees, young women working as dancers in adult entertainment establishments,” Newman said recently in a news release. “This is a predatory business that preys on young women who it hopes will be powerless to speak up because of society’s stigmatization of the work they are doing.

“These clubs’ refusal to pay their dancers is a clear violation of the law,” she said. “We hope this class action lawsuit will send a message to adult establishments everywhere that they must treat their workers fairly.”

The lawsuit alleged that dancers were “misclassified” by the company as independent contractors rather than employees in Colorado, California, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina and Maine. Dancers also were required to pay a “house fee” before being allowed to work, the complaint said. Those who performed before 3 p.m. had to pay managers $30. Dancers who worked from 3 to 9 p.m. Thursday through Sunday were forced to pay $40. On Friday and Saturday nights, the “house fee” went up to $50. Women who danced after 9 p.m. were required to pay $60.

In addition to the house fees, dancers were forced to share their tips, the complaint said. Women were required to give 20 percent of their tips to disc jockeys and 5 percent of their tips to bouncers at the end of each shift.

Dancers also had to pay the disc jockey $5 for every song they danced to onstage, the lawsuit alleged. The company also required dancers to pay $5 per shift for valet parking and $6 for bottled water. Workers were “fined” $50 per hour for not dancing during a shift.

In addition to class action status, the lawsuit is seeking a jury trial to determine what back pay, overtime pay or both may be due dancers and how much money should be refunded for fees charged dancers to work.

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