An exotic dancer has thrown a class action lawsuit into the lap of one of Chicago’s most storied strip clubs, accusing owners of the Admiral Theatre of misclassifying them as independent contractors, rather than employees, to short them wages and make them rely exclusively on customers’ tips.
On July 11, dancer Paulina Wisniewska filed suit in Chicago federal court against The Admiral and owner Sam Cecola, asking the court to order the strip club to pay unpaid back wages and other amounts she and her attorneys are owed by the club to her and most other dancers who have worked at The Admiral since 2008.
According to the lawsuit, Wisniewska has worked as an exotic dancer at The Admiral since 2013.
The club, located in the 3900 block of W. Lawrence Avenue, on the city’s Northwest Side, has offered full nude dancing for about four decades. The Admiral theater building has stood on the site since 1927, opening first as a movie house. The club is able to offer full nude dancing because it does not hold a city liquor license, and does not serve alcohol.
James D. Rogers Siegel & Dolan
In her complaint, Wisniewska alleged The Admiral has consistently sidestepped federal and Illinois wage and employment laws, and the city of Chicago’s minimum wage ordinance, by labeling its dancers as “independent contractors.”
This classification, the lawsuit said, enabled the club’s owners to make its dancers work exclusively for customer gratuities, rather than base wages supplemented by tips, as do table servers and bartenders.
This arrangement, however, came despite the club’s ownership’s strict control over dancers’ work hours, including rules over what dancers can wear and how they must behave on and off stage, stretching as far as to dictate precisely when dancers must shed their “top” and “bottom” on stage, to punish dancers caught chewing gum at the club and discipline dancers who may be late arriving on stage.
According to the lawsuit, dancers are also required to split what tips they do receive with the house, as well as other employees.
The lawsuit notes the dancers and the club have a symbiotic, mutually dependent relationship – the dancers are “economically dependent” on the club, and the club relies on the dancers to provide a marketable product. The lawsuit asserts this makes the relationship between the dancers and the club more akin to an employee-employer relationship, rather than that of a business hiring contractors.
“… The Admiral is in the business of providing adult entertainment to its patrons. Its website advertises ‘the Best All-Nude Gentlemen’s Club in Chicagoland’ and offers patrons ‘over 100 beautiful showgirl entertainers,’” the lawsuit states. “Thus, the dancers clearly perform services in the usual course of Defendants’ business, and without the dancers, the Admiral would have no business, such that the dancers’ work is integral to Defendants’ business.”
The complaint asks the judge to order The Admiral to pay back pay to all dancers who worked at the club since 2008 at the state’s $7.25 minimum wage rate, and back pay at the city’s higher $10 minimum wage rate for all dancers who have worked at the club since 2015. Additionally, the complaint asks the court to tack 2 percent per month interest on to back wages paid under the state law claims.
The complaint also requests attorney fees.
Plaintiffs are represented in the action by attorneys James D. Rogers, Marc J. Siegel and Bradley Manewith, of the firm of Siegel & Dolan Ltd., of Chicago, and Shannon Liss-Riordan and Adelaide Pagano, of the firm of Lichten & Liss-Riordan P.C., of Boston.
The lawsuit is the latest in a number of such wage actions brought against strip clubs. Recently, for instance, a federal judge dismissed a similar action brought by exotic dancers at The Pink Monkey club in Chicago’s South Loop. In that decision in 2017, the judge said the dancer plaintiffs didn’t present enough evidence to back their claims the club had shorted them pay and improperly taken their tips, while classifying them as contractors.