As We See It

Stripping conditions: How will a recent court ruling affect exotic dancers?

Mona Shield Payne

Jessica just wanted what anyone working for a company wants: to be treated fairly. But during her four years as an exotic dancer in Las Vegas, she felt like a victim. She had to pay every day just to walk into work—sometimes $75, sometimes more. And then there were the “fines”—issued by the club if she didn’t get onstage when requested or showed up when she wasn’t scheduled to work. At the end of the day, Jessica could end up forking out hundreds of dollars; some dancers she knew would actually lose money after working a six-hour shift.

“The conditions weren’t very fair,” says Jessica, who declined to give her last name. “There were times when I was sick, and I asked to go home, and they’re like, ‘Not unless you pay us to go home.’ Which, you know, is extorting me. It made it a very hostile environment.” But it went well beyond that. Jessica says she found herself the victim of sexual harassment on many occasions, but as an independent contractor, she had no recourse. “If I were an employee, there would have been a manager to talk to.”

Instead, Jessica says managers were part of the problem. “A manager made a racial remark. I’m bi-racial, and he said the only reason I got hired there was because of my light skin. After that, I just felt discriminated against.”

In 2009, Jessica joined five other dancers in a class-action lawsuit against Sapphire Gentlemen’s Club over wage and overtime requirements. And last month, the state Supreme Court ruled that the Sapphire dancers are employees, not independent contractors. Ryan Anderson, a local attorney who worked on the case for several years, says the ruling will result in back wages owed the club’s thousands of workers (estimates are around $40 million), but stresses that for dancers like Jessica, it’s always been about working conditions.

“Once they’re employees, there’s a whole framework that kicks into play—FMLA, sexual harassment claims, worker’s comp—that was never there before,” Anderson says.

It’s unclear how the ruling will affect operations at Sapphire (attorneys for the club did not respond to interview requests) and strip clubs throughout Nevada, but Anderson says dancers should continue to be paid well. “The dancers are worth a certain amount of money to these clubs,” he says. “The laws of economics don’t stop simply because they’re following the law.”

As for Jessica, whatever settlement she may receive is insignificant. “We represented 6,600 girls. Just to know that I helped with that, that’s enough for me, honestly.”

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Ken Miller is Las Vegas Magazine's managing editor, having previously served as associate editor at Las Vegas Weekly, assistant features ...

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