Nine exotic dancers have joined a lawsuit against a West Des Moines club where they allegedly worked without salary and had to pay the owner for the right to work for tips.
In 2022, former dancer Cierra Turner sued Pretty Women Inc., which owns the gentleman’s club Beach Girls, located at 6220 Raccoon River Drive in West Des Moines. The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa, alleges violations of state and federal minimum-wage laws, unjust enrichment, and unlawful tip sharing.
Turner’s attorneys are seeking class-action status for the lawsuit, enabling them to combine the claims of multiple dancers into a single proceeding.
That process requires the plaintiff’s attorney, in conjunction with the court, to give Beach Girls’ dancers notice of the lawsuit against the club and their right to join the litigation. After receiving the notice, the dancers can decide whether they want to sign on to the lawsuit as co-plaintiffs.
In the Beach Girls case, the club’s attorney asked that language be added to the notices warning the dancers that they “may owe back taxes” if they were to be awarded any unpaid wages. The defense also urged the court to include language in the notice advising dancers who joined the lawsuit that their tax returns might be subject to disclosure through the discovery process — and that if any tax liabilities were discovered, the club wouldn’t provide them with representation.
Turner’s attorney resisted those demands, arguing they were designed to discourage dancers from joining the lawsuit as class members.
U.S. District Court Senior Judge James E. Gritzner sided with Turner’s attorney on both issues, ruling that the warnings proposed by the defendants were based on an assumption that dancers who decided to opt in were entitled to some amount of relief. In addition, the court said, “warning prospective litigants that they will incur unknown liability by opting in poses an obvious risk of chilling participation, which the court will not permit on the basis of speculation.”
Beach Girls also objected to plans giving the dancers 90 days to join the litigation, citing cases in which pizza-delivery drivers were given only 60 days to decide whether to join class-action litigation over their wages.
Gritzner rejected that argument, noting that the pizza-delivery drivers “presumably did not work under pseudonyms or pose the other communication challenges that may be present here.” Exotic dancers are engaged in a profession with high turnover and are “particularly transient,” and more difficult to contact, the judge noted.
In recent weeks, nine additional dancers have signed on to the case: Ashley Parrish, Madison Breckenridge, Danielle Lamar, Morgan Coffey, Kierra West, Talia Reese, Tanusha Reese, Ciara Gilliam and Kamryn O’Connor.
The lawsuit alleges the club misclassified its dancers as “independent contractors” for whom the minimum-wage law did not apply and then refused to provide a minimum-wage salary.
The only compensation dancers earned was in the form of tips from the club’s patrons, the lawsuit claims, and the dancers were required to pay the owners a “house fee” of $40 for every shift they worked. Some of the money collected in tips also had to be shared with other workers, such as disc jockeys, or routed back to the club’s owner, according to the lawsuit.
Some of the dancers “sometimes completed a full shift only to owe Beach Girls money,” the lawsuit claims.
Turner’s lawyers are seeking unspecified damages, back pay, restitution, interest, attorney’s fees and court costs.
Under federal law, employers can pay tipped employees as little as $2.13 per hour. By refusing to let the dancers keep all of their tips, however, the club allegedly violated the federal tip-pool law and lost the right to claim a credit for those tips that could be applied to the minimum-wage standards.
Co-defendants in the case, all of whom have denied any wrongdoing, include J.P. Parking, which is alleged to be “effectively the same company” as Pretty Women Inc.; the two companies’ president, James Petry of Warren County; and Beach Girls’ manager Kent O’Connell of Polk County.
Beach Girls also being sued over online ads
In addition to the lawsuit over dancers’ pay, the West Des Moines strip club called Beach Girls is being sued for allegedly using in its advertisements photos of women who never worked for the club.
That lawsuit is one of several filed last year against nine Iowa strip clubs alleging unauthorized use of women’s photos in online advertisements.
In some of the cases, such as one filed against the Waterloo club Flirt’s, the defendants are citing the doctrine of fair use as part of their defense — essentially arguing that if any copyrighted materials were used without authorization, it was done so purely for educational or descriptive purposes.
In the case against Beach Girls, the club argues that a third-party marketing company called Blue Frog Marketing ran the advertisements for the strip club on Beach Girls’ social media accounts and that Beach Girls “had no control” over the postings. The club says it paid Blue Frog for its marketing services “with the belief they were valid and legal services.”