Former exotic dancer files fair wage lawsuit in Lafayette

Advocate staff photo by BRYAN TUCK -- A former dancer for Michael's has filed a lawsuit alleging unfair wage practices at the men's club Thursday in Lafayette. Show caption
Advocate staff photo by BRYAN TUCK -- A former dancer for Michael's has filed a lawsuit alleging unfair wage practices at the men's club Thursday in Lafayette.

Earnings fall short of fair wage, she says

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LAFAYETTE — A fo1

rmer dancer at Michael’s Men’s Club in Broussard is suing the club, claiming the money “exotic entertainers” make does not reach U.S. minimum wage levels and the money they do make by performing almost nude is eaten up by the fees Michael’s charges its dancers.

Former Michael’s dancer Yvonne Vera said in a U.S. District Court suit that the money she and other entertainers made falls far short of a fair wage.

Vera, who worked at Michael’s for three months in 2013 and now resides in Henderson, Nev., filed the suit this week that’s open to other dancers who want to “opt in” the court action if they feel they’ve been cheated. The suit, filed in Lafayette on behalf of Vera and attorneys in Pittsburgh, could be part of a national class-action effort.

The suit claims Michael’s classifies dancers as independent contractors, which allows the club to ignore national minimum-wage laws and time-and-a-half overtime wages.

It also alleges Michael’s makes the dancers pay fees for the privilege of working there, and that it fines dancers who do not toe the Michael’s line.

“For example, (Michael’s) mandates a dancer charge $30 for a ‘private dance,’ of which (Michael’s) takes $5,” according to the suit.

Other features of the dance-for-money structure are laid out in the suit.

For a 15-minute dance session in the club’s VIP room, dancers are required to charge customers $120 and give the house $45. For a half-hour’s worth of closed-door entertainment, dancers must charge clients $225, of which $75 goes to Michael’s.

A full hour in the VIP room costs customers, almost all of them male, $450. Out of that, the dancer must give to managers $150, according to the lawsuit.

Other charges to dancers come at the end of a shift, Vera recounts in the suit.

As the end-of-shift receipts are tallied, dancers are given their money by the head cashier. If a customer used a credit card to pay for the dances, Michael’s docks the dancers another 10 percent.

Walking out of the club gets expensive too, the lawsuit claims.

“(Michael’s) has a mandatory tip-out policy whereby dancers must each tip a minimum of $10 to the ‘House Mom,’ $10 to the DJ, $10 to the bartender, $5 to the door man, and an amount to the VIP area/champagne room host which is a percentage of the dancer’s private dance earnings,” the lawsuit claims.

“As a result of the mandatory house fees and required tip-outs, dancers sometimes receive little to no actual compensation despite hours of work,” according to the suit. “Indeed, after paying all fees, fines and tip-outs, (Vera’s) take-home compensation on several occasions was negative.”

The suit says Vera and other dancers who join the suit “have suffered and will continue to suffer irreparable damage” from the ways they’re charged and paid.

The suit seeks designation as a class-action lawsuit, restitution of wages and tips “improperly” retained by Michael’s through nightly fees, and the award of unpaid minimum and overtime wages.

Michael’s is located off U.S. 90 in Broussard near North Morgan Avenue.

Michael Watkins, who is listed in incorporation records as the president of Michael’s, did not return a call to the business Thursday. Mark R. “Tiger” Pharr III, an attorney listed as a corporate agent for Michael’s, also did not return a call Thursday.

An attorney from New Orleans who filed the suit, Alexandra Mora, did not answer questions emailed to her Thursday.

Another attorney at the firm, Walter Wolf, said he and Mora were acting as local counsel for Pittsburgh law firm Carlson Lynch LTD.

According to the Carlson Lynch website, the firm specializes in federal class-action claims.

Wolf would not say whether the suit against Michael’s is part of a national class-action effort.