PEABODY — Three dancers who have worked at Peabody's Golden Banana strip club have filed what they hope will become a class action suit alleging that the club's practice of requiring the women to pay fees to work there violates state tip sharing laws.
The suit, filed earlier this week in Salem Superior Court, is the second time that a group of dancers has gone to court against the club over those fees, which according to the lawsuit, can run $50 to $100 a shift.
While lawyers in Massachusetts aren't allowed to specify the exact amount of damages they are seeking beyond actual costs or losses, a separate filing in the case puts the estimated value of the suit at $2 million.
A 2009 lawsuit by a different group of dancers against the Golden Banana was settled on undisclosed terms in 2013, but only after a judge sided with the dancers, finding on summary judgment that they were improperly categorized as "independent contractors."
In the new lawsuit, brought on behalf of dancers Arielle Philibotte, Lisa Minischiello and Gabrielle Rohde, attorney David Dishman alleges that the practice of requiring "house fees," as well as of "strongly" encouraging the dancers to share tips with DJs and bouncers, continues.
Named as defendants are D&B Corporation, the corporate name of the club, its president Mark Filtranti of West Palm Beach, Florida, and Robert Depesa of Middleton, who is also an officer of the corporation and is involved in the management of the business.
Depesa said on Wednesday that they had not been served. "It's news to me," he said, declining further comment.
The suit alleges that in addition to requiring the women to pay a fee in order to work, in violation of state law, the owners also control all aspects of their work.
That includes requiring the dancers to work at least three shifts per week, deciding which outfits they will wear on stage and on the club floor, requiring them to become fully nude while on stage, in private dances and in the "Champagne/VIP" room, and fining them for being late or missing a shift.
The suit alleges that by failing to allow the dancers to retain all of their tips by making them pay the fees, late fines and by encouraging "tip-outs" to other staff, the club is violating the state's law banning tip sharing.
Though the tip sharing is not mandatory, Dishman said dancers who don't kick part of their tips to bouncers and the DJ get frozen out.
"The way it was explained to me, if you want assistance from bouncers during the shift on anything, you better tip out," he said. Assistance could mean anything from walking a dancer to her car to steering high-rolling customers toward that dancer.
And when the DJ doesn't get tipped, Dishman said he was told, the dancers might not get the songs they asked to be played.
The suit seeks triple damages for violations of the tip law, as well as restitution for the fees, fines and tips already paid.
In a court filing, Dishman estimates the damages at $2 million.
Dishman said that on a typical weekend night there can be as many as 25 dancers working at the club.
If the suit is certified as a class action, all of those dancers would be entitled to share in any settlement or judgment.
"I look at them as crusaders," said Dishman. "They're helping all the dancers."
Dishman, who said he was sent a letter by the attorney general's office giving him the go-ahead to sue, has represented other dancers in suits against other strip clubs, including a pending suit filed last year against the owner of The Cabaret Lounge in Peabody, and earlier suits against Kitten's and Ten's Show Club in Salisbury, Centerfolds in Boston, the Squire Lounge in Revere and Mac's Two in Billerica.
All of the cases that have reached a resolution have settled out of court.
"They're sticking their necks out," Dishman said of his clients.
But he said that surprisingly, the biggest pushback in prior cases hasn't come from club owners but instead from other dancers. "They were worried about rocking the boat," said Dishman.
Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @SNJulieManganis.