PEABODY — A Salem Superior Court judge is mulling a request by a group of former dancers at the Cabaret Lounge to certify their wage violation lawsuit as a class action.
The three former dancers, who worked at the club at various points between 2014 and 2018, first filed their lawsuit in 2018, alleging that the Route 1 strip club misclassified them as independent contractors, failed to pay them a wage or overtime, forced them to “tip out” to bouncers and DJs, and made them pay a fee of up to $20 per shift to dance.
They also say that in every other aspect of their work, they were treated like employees: They faced discipline, had to get permission to leave during a shift, and that the club controlled what they wore — or didn’t wear — while they were working.
The dancers, Summer Beaulieu, Nayelis Baldino and Lauren Turcotte, and their attorney, David Dishman, say in court filings that there could be as many as 300 other dancers who were unlawfully classified as independent contractors.
They’re urging Salem Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Karp to certify their case as a class-action lawsuit, calling it the most efficient and effective way of dealing with the case, and saying that many of the dancers who might have a case are only willing to proceed under the anonymity that a class action suit can provide, given the nature of their work.
But the club’s owner is accusing the dancers — who have been plaintiffs in other cases against the Cabaret and other clubs — and their attorney of engaging in a “cottage industry” of filing wage violation cases against clubs every three years.
Lawyer David Heinlein argued in a formal opposition to the class action request that a prior 2013 suit against the club on the same grounds ended up being settled. In that case, 56 potential class members were identified and of that group, only eight or nine actually sought payouts from the settlement.
He also said dancers are now offered the option of signing an agreement to work as a “non-employee” or being on the club’s payroll — and that most dancers still take the option of dancing as a non-employee. Under both scenarios, the dancers keep all of their tips, Heinlein wrote.
He and the club’s owner, Feng Zhi Lang, dispute other allegations in the dancers’ suit, saying that the dancers are not required to “tip out,” that they choose their own costumes and set their own rates for “private dances,” and that they are allowed to work any shift they choose.
Following a hearing last Wednesday, Karp took the request under advisement.
Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @SNJulieManganis