- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 30, 2014

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) - Exotic dancers should be paid at least minimum wage and a Morgantown nightclub is breaking the law by failing to do so.

That’s an argument made by Christie Lynn Brundege in a federal class action lawsuit filed Friday against the owners of the Blue Parrot Cabaret in Morgantown.

In the lawsuit, filed in the Northern District of West Virginia, Brundege says she worked at the Blue Parrot as an exotic dancer between April 2013 and July this year. During that time, she worked a regular shift from 7 p.m. to 3 a.m.

Despite that, she was not paid by her employer, according to the lawsuit. Her employer also required her to relinquish percentages of her tips and “fines and fees” for violating rules and showing up late to work, the lawsuit says.

Brundege wasn’t available for comment, but an attorney representing her case says the Blue Parrot’s practices amount to violations of various state and federal labor laws.

“We’ve had the federal minimum wage in this country for 80 years,” says Greg Greenberg, an attorney representing Brundege. “In this system (at Blue Parrot), you’ve got a situation where employees are paying their employer to go to work. That’s both unreal and unbelievable.”

John Baron, a co-owner of Blue Parrot, declined to offer a public statement about the lawsuit.

Greenberg argues that Brundege - and other employees of the Blue Parrot - should also be classified as employees. As it stands, they’re considered independent contractors. That means they’re not able to receive workers compensation if they’re hurt on the job, and they’re not eligible for unemployment compensation if they find themselves unable to work.

“All the employer really should do is pay the tip credit minimum wage,” Greenberg said. That’s the amount servers in restaurants are paid, which is federally set at $2.13 per hour. “That’s not asking too much,” he said without elaborating.

He said he’s hoping that other dancers will join the class action suit, noting Brundege is the only one so far pressing the claim.

This isn’t the first time such arguments have been made on behalf of exotic dancers in federal court.

Last September, a federal judge in New York ruled that exotic dancers at a Manhattan strip club were entitled to minimum wage.

Last October, a federal judge approved a $347,000 class action settlement after a court found that Legz strip clubs had violated federal minimum wage laws and West Virginia wage assignment restrictions.

In July, Texas strip clubs were ordered to pay more than $300,000 to 21 employees who filed or joined a lawsuit over wages.

Brundege is hoping for a comparable outcome. Her lawsuits asks for unpaid wages and statutory liquidated damages as well as “other relief as the Court may deem just.”

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