LINCOLN — An exotic dancer at a strip club in Waverly scored a victory for Nebraska workers Friday.
The Nebraska Supreme Court ruled that Elizabeth Mays, a dancer from Wisconsin, was an employee of Shakers and entitled to protection under state wage and hour laws.
The court rejected Shakers’ arguments that Mays was an independent contractor who leased the use of the club’s stage and dressing room.
Mays’ attorney, Kathleen Neary, said the ruling has broad implications for Nebraska workers. She said it reaffirmed that employers can’t simply call someone an independent contractor and deprive them of the benefits being an employee.
At minimum, those benefits include wages, Social Security and Medicare contributions, workers’ compensation coverage, and unemployment benefits. Employees also may be entitled to health insurance and other benefits.
“It’s a very important finding from the Nebraska Supreme Court today,” Neary said. “It provides important legal protections for people who work for a living.”
Robert Creager, who represented Shakers and Daniel Robinson, the club’s owner and manager, was unavailable for comment Friday.
According to the high court opinion, Mays had danced at Shakers’ from 2012 through 2014, under two one-year “independent artist lease agreements.”
Under the agreements, she paid a flat fee for use of the stage and dressing room, with additional fees for use of private rooms.
She did not receive any compensation from the club. Her only compensation came in the form of customer tips, which she calculated at $44 per hour after costs.
But, according to testimony at trial, Shakers had more than 50 “house rules” for the dancers. The rules spelled out when dancers were to arrive, what methods of payment they could accept, how they were to conduct themselves offstage, what clothing they were to remove during a performance, their cleaning duties, even the kind of lotion they could use.
A Lancaster County district judge ruled, and the state high court agreed, that the rules were key in determining Mays’ employment status. The rules controlled almost every aspect of her work at the club.
“The right of control is the chief factor distinguishing an employment relationship from that of an independent contractor,” the high court said, citing an earlier case.
In its decision, the Supreme Court said Mays was entitled to the minimum wage for tipped employees, or $2.13 an hour, as required by the state Wage and Hour Act.
The court rejected Mays’ argument that a federal labor law applied, which would have entitled her to regular minimum wage plus overtime. The opinion said that law applies if an employee or business are determined to be involved with interstate commerce.