A former stripper may proceed with her case against a Philadelphia gentleman's club that she claims cheated exotic dancers out of minimum wage and overtime pay, a federal judge has ruled.

Priya Verma filed a federal suit against The Penthouse Club@Philly in May 2013 alleging the club had improperly classified dancers as independent contractors instead of employees. According to the complaint, the Department of Labor previously has recognized that dancers are employees and entitled to protection under various state and federal wage and hour laws.

Verma danced at the Port Richmond topless club for three months in 2009 and later returned in August 2012 to perform more than 40 hours a week until filing the suit. It states that in addition to being denied minimum wage and overtime pay, dancers also were required to hand over a portion of their tips to club management.

The Penthouse Club tried in August to have the case dismissed. Its attorney claimed the club did not pay the dancers and only rented stage time to them. The club argued that it was the customers who paid performers for stage and private lap dances. The dancers were merely "independent contractors."

U.S. District Judge Anita Brody disagreed. She noted the club acted as an employer because it set the fees a dancer could charge for private dances and could determine how the women dressed and wore their hair and makeup. Brody also pointed out that the club could impose fines on a dancer for being late ($10), not using the stairs ($25), or leaving her shift early ($100). It could also fire the women at any time.

"The club's slogan 'Where the Magazine Comes to Life' refers to the pornographic magazine Penthouse known for its images of nude women," Brody wrote in her June 30 opinion. "The club provides topless female dancers who perform stage dances and private lap dances for customers. Given that Defendant markets itself on the basis of providing topless dancers, it cannot credibly argue that the services performed by dancers are not an integral part of its business."

Additionally, Brody granted class-action status to the suit and will allow Verma to solicit others to join her suit by posting a notice in the club and contacting current and former dancers.

According to a 2012 report in the Philadelphia Daily News, several suits have been filed in recent years against the club. The other lawsuits allege a stripper burst a customer's bladder, a beating by bouncers, a slip-and-fall injury, overserving of alcohol, and the unauthorized use of a woman's photographs in club advertisements. In 2011 police arrested seven dancers and a manager on prostitution charges.

Contact Sam Wood at 215-854-2796 or samwood@phillynews.com. Follow @samwoodiii on Twitter.
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