Ex-Delilah's dancer joins suit over strip-club wages

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Melody Schofield said that after paying a "house fee" and tips, she made little. (MEAGHAN POGUE / Staff Photographer)

Melody Schofield is done with it.

Done with private lap dances in the Champagne Room at Delilah's Den, where everyone knew her as Coco.

Done with dancing half-naked on a bar stage.

Done with paying to work - as much as $85 for a "house fee," due to Delilah's management at the start of every shift.

"I was tired of it," she said. "I felt like it was time to go."

Except for one detail.

She's not done with not getting paid, she said, and that's why Schofield, 26, of Philadelphia, last month put her name on the top of a potential class-action lawsuit filed in Common Pleas Court against Delilah's Den.

"I think it's really unfair that they weren't compensating us for our time," Schofield said.

In filing the lawsuit, Schofield joins thousands of other erotic dancers around the nation who have filed wage and hour lawsuits and together have won millions of dollars in settlements.

Schofield's attorney, Edward "Ted" Millstein, thinks the potential class in this case could consist of hundreds of Delilah's Den dancers.

What drives these kinds of lawsuits "is a rising tide of consciousness of violations of the law," said Robert O'Brien, a Cherry Hill employment lawyer who represents workers.

The increasing activism directed at Walmart and McDonald's, the nationwide drive to raise the minimum wage, the sick-pay debates, he said, are part of a "general movement in this country to fairness in the workplace."

In her lawsuit, Schofield alleges that Delilah's Den violated state and federal labor laws because she wasn't paid minimum wage or overtime.

Sometimes, she said, on a slow night, she'd work an entire shift - and after paying the house fee and tipping the disc jockey, the bouncer, and "house mom," who runs the dressing room, her wallet would be bare. She wasn't even getting the minimum wage.

"The entertainers aren't on the payroll," said Delilah's Den's attorney, Stephen Howard, who hadn't seen the lawsuit and declined to comment on its specifics other than to confirm that Schofield had worked at the club near the Delaware River waterfront.

"The entertainers pay a stage lease fee - that's customary in the industry," he said. "

The club owners argue that the dancers are independent contractors, in business for themselves, working for tips, and are free to dance elsewhere.

The dancer plaintiffs disagree, saying they are employees, required, like most employees, to follow a dress (or maybe undress) code, wear certain types of outfits on certain days, and to show up for scheduled shifts - even slow Sunday-night shifts.

"I like to keep things simple," said Millstein, Schofield's Center City lawyer. "At the end of the day, the causes of action are the same" - the failure to properly pay dancers.

Schofield applied for a job at Delilah's Den in 2007, hoping to work as a cocktail waitress, something lucrative because the jobs she was piecing together weren't adding up to a living.

Instead, she said, the managers suggested she dance, even though her only dance experience was as a school cheerleader in Boise, Idaho.

"That was the first time I was in a club," she said. "Watching the others was how I learned."

They sent her to the South Street Candy Barrel - the unofficial uniform store for Delilah's, where the dancers could buy easy-exit gowns for about $120, plus designated red-and-green holiday outfits for Christmas, and gold-and-black outfits for the club's annual Entertainer of the Year of event.

Wednesday was lingerie night.

"At first, they made us work during the day," Schofield said, but later, she landed night shifts, earning lots of money in tips.

"It was nice being young and supercomfortable," said Schofield, who left Delilah's in November and now works in a hair salon.

"You just get used to it," she said about her work at Delilah's. "Anything you do over and over becomes second nature. You get treated a lot better by the customers there than you do in most customer-service jobs."

At Delilah's, bouncers strictly watched patrons to make sure they kept their hands to themselves, even during a lap dance, even in the semiprivate Champagne Room.

Both Schofield and Delilah's lawyer made the point that the clubs wanted to provide a pleasant experience for male patrons while avoiding prostitution, which would lead law enforcement to shut down the clubs.

That's one tightrope, and the other in employment law is the "misclassification" issue over whether workers, be they dancers or FedEx drivers, are employees or independent contractors.

The classification has implications, said New York lawyer Justin M. Swartz, who has represented "at least 2,000 dancers" at clubs such as Cheetah's Gentleman's Club & Restaurant in Times Square.

"It's not a safe job, dancing on a stage and dealing with customers. If they get hurt, they have no workers' compensation insurance," he said. "It's a tough enough job if you are a dancer. You can make a good living, but many don't. They go to work just like anybody else."

 


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