Judge turns lights out on exotic dancers wage class action vs Pink Monkey club

By Scott Holland | Apr 6, 2017

A year after agreeing to dismiss part of a labor lawsuit brought by some exotic dancers against a Chicago strip club, a federal judge scuttled the entire putative class action. 

In a memorandum opinion and order issued March 28 in Chicago, District Judge Rebecca R. Pallmeyer granted summary judgment in favor of Clinton Entertainment Management LLC, which operates The Pink Monkey, a South Loop club. The decision could end the legal hopes of plaintiffs Michelle Labriola and Anna Lapina, dancers who alleged the establishment wrongly classified them as independent contractors and shorted them pay in the process. 

Labriola contended she worked eight to 10 hours a day for the first two months of 2015 without wages; Lapina said she worked at least 54 hours a week in August 2015, also without wages. Further, they said Pink Monkey management charged them for things like “house fees,” “late fees,” “exchange fees” and “credit card service fees,” all collected from the women’s tips without their consent. They asked the court to award them unpaid back wages and overtime, as well as “wages equal to the amount they were required to give (the club) and other employees” under the “fees” policy. 

On March 22, 2016, Pallmeyer granted part of the club’s motion to dismiss the complaint, saying the Fair Labor Standards Act didn’t “provide a cause of action for plaintiffs seeking the return of additional tip money from their employer or others,” but did allow a state law minimum wage claim and Labriola’s overtime pay claim to survive. 

But in the March 28, 2017, order, Pallmeyer granted further summary judgment on behalf of the club, then dismissed remaining claims without prejudice, and denied the dancers’ motion for class certification as moot. 

In her analysis, Pallmeyer considered whether the women were employees or independent contractors. Giving them presumption of employee status for the purpose of weighing their claims, she then considered whether dance fees constituted customer tips or compulsory service charges. Finding them to be charges, she noted, the fees are to be counted against the club’s minimum wage obligations. 

Pallmeyer also found Lapina did not provide sufficient evidence for her assertion she worked an extra hour per day checking out at the end of each shift and would not consider those activities as part of dancer’s working hours. Likewise, she said the plaintiffs “cite repeatedly to testimony that refers to unknown documents not in the record,” leading her to conclude there is no genuine dispute on the federal minimum wage claims. 

The state minimum wage law claim, she said, boils down to a $2.50 shortfall for Labriola — 18 cents per hour over 14 hours — and a $25.70 gap for Lapina, based on 75 cents per hour over 34.27 hours. 

Pallmeyer said the unjust enrichment claims are rooted in the allegation of the club retaining portions of the dancers’ tips, but said those claims also fail on ground the women were paid via dance fees, which are not tips.

Labriola also claimed the club seized a $1,000 customer tip on her final night of employment. With testimony supporting arguments for and against this claim, Pallmeyer dismissed that claim without prejudice to state court litigation. 

If no other plaintiff presents evidence supporting the overtime claim within 21 days of her filing, Pallmeyer said she would grant summary judgment on that claim, and dismiss both the state minimum wage claim and the $1,000 tip claim. 

U.S. District Judge Amy J. St. Eve in August dismissed a similar lawsuit three different dancers brought against the same club, saying those dancers’ amended complaint failed to provide factual detail to back up their claims. She’d dismissed the original complaint in February 2016. 

Labriola and Lapina were represented by attorney John C. Ireland, of South Elgin. 

Clinton Entertainment was represented by The Gurland Law Firm, of Hinsdale.

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Gurland Law Firm Law Firm of John C. Ireland Pink Monkey U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois

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