A federal judge in Philadelphia has awarded $4.6 million to a group of erotic dancers after a jury agreed the women were cheated out of their wages and tips at the Penthouse Club in the city’s Port Richmond neighborhood.
Dancer Priya Verma filed a class-action suit in 2013 against the strip club at Castor and Delaware Avenues. The suit alleged management had improperly classified the dancers as independent contractors instead of employees.
The Penthouse Club tried to have the case dismissed by claiming it did not pay the dancers but only rented stage time to them. In an unusual memorandum following a 2014 hearing, U.S. District Judge Anita Brody disagreed, stating the club had acted as an employer because it could fine dancers for any number of offenses and fire the women at any time.
The suit culminated in a three-day trial last week. According to court records, at least 353 women danced at the Penthouse Club from 2009 through 2012, the time covered by the suit. The club, which is locally owned, licenses the “Penthouse” name and is not part of a national chain.
Verma, who often worked seven-day weeks, said dancers were required to show up for a minimum of four shifts per week and shell out house fees ranging from $25 to $75 a shift regardless of whether or not they made money paid directly by customers.
The jury on Thursday found the club did not pay dancers the required minimum hourly wage of $7.50. They were inappropriately ordered to pay “tip outs” to a host of other club employees. On a Friday evening, for instance, the fees could include $25 to management, $15 to the DJ, $10 to the “house mom,” $5 to the emcee, $5 to security workers, and $6 to valets. Dancers had to pay the valet even if they did not have a car.
On Friday, Brody awarded $4,594,722.73 in damages.
The case is one of many similar suits filed against strip clubs in recent years.
Gary F. Lynch and Gerald D. Wells, the lawyers for Verma, declined to comment, as did a manager for the club.