Iowa gentleman’s club faces class-action lawsuit over dancers’ wages

By: - March 14, 2022 1:27 pm

(Photo by Nina Marsiglio/EyeEm/Getty Images)

An exotic dancer has filed a class-action lawsuit against the West Des Moines club where she allegedly worked without salary and had to pay the owner for the right to work for tips.

Cierra Turner is suing the company Pretty Women Inc., which owns the gentleman’s club Beach Girls; 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.

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.

O’Connell, the club’s manager, declined to comment on the case Monday.

The Beach Girls gentleman’s club is facing a federal class-action lawsuit filed by a former who dancer who claims she worked without salary and had to pay the owner for the right to work for tips. (Photo from Google Earth)

Turner alleges that from January 2019 to June 2020, she worked as an exotic dancer at Beach Girls, located at 6220 Raccoon River Drive in West Des Moines. Turner claims the club misclassified its dancers as “independent contractors” for whom the minimum-wage law does not apply and then refused to provide her with a minimum-wage salary.

Turner claims her only compensation was in the form of tips from the club’s patrons, and that she was required to pay to pay the owners a “house fee” of $40 for every shift she worked. Some of the money she collected in tips had to then be shared with other workers, such as disc jockeys, or routed back to the club’s owner.

“Essentially, defendants took money from plaintiff under the premise that she had to pay for her space at the club,” the lawsuit alleges. “Defendants chose to maximize the business’s profit at the expense of plaintiff and class members.”

The lawsuit also states that Turner and other women who worked as dancers were required to share their tips with other employees who do not customarily collect tips for their work.

On behalf of Turner and all other similarly situated dancers, Turner’s lawyers are seeking unspecified damages, back pay, restitution, interest, attorney’s fees and court costs.

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“Defendants employ exotic dancers and have employed hundreds of dancers over the years at Beach Girls,” the lawsuit claims. The club also sells keychains, T-shirts, and calendars featuring the employees.

Turner alleges she and other dancers worked, on average, three six-hour shifts each week. Some of the dancers “sometimes completed a full shift only to owe Beach Girls money,” the lawsuit claims.

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.

The lawsuit also alleges Beach Girls violated a state law that allows an employer to pay as little as $4.35 per hour if the company can prove the employee customarily and regularly receives more than $30 per month in tips.

The women who worked for the club were allegedly required to “perform private and semi-private dances,” as well as “VIP-room dances,” under pricing guidelines set not by the dancers themselves but by the club’s management. In addition to the $40 fee they paid to the club each shift, the dancers were allegedly charged $150 for leaving work early. They also had to pay at least $5 per dance to the club itself and pay the club $10 for every “VIP-room dance” they performed, the lawsuit claims.

Although Turner is the sole plaintiff, her attorneys seek class-action status in the case so that it can be pursued on behalf of all dancers employed by the club at any time during the past three years. The number of potential class-action plaintiffs in the case “is believed to be well over 40,” according to the lawsuit, since the club employs dozens of dancers at any given time.

The defendants in the case have yet to file a response to the lawsuit.

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Clark Kauffman
Clark Kauffman

Deputy Editor Clark Kauffman has worked during the past 30 years as both an investigative reporter and editorial writer at two of Iowa’s largest newspapers, the Des Moines Register and the Quad-City Times. He has won numerous state and national awards for reporting and editorial writing. His 2004 series on prosecutorial misconduct in Iowa was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting. From October 2018 through November 2019, Kauffman was an assistant ombudsman for the Iowa Office of Ombudsman, an agency that investigates citizens’ complaints of wrongdoing within state and local government agencies.

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