Strippers in Kansas are eligible for state unemployment benefits because they are legitimate employees of the clubs where they work, not just independent entertainment contractors, the Kansas State Supreme Court ruled Friday.
The court reached a decision in the case Milano's v. Kansas Department of Labor Contributions Unit, capping a seven-year legal battle over employment benefits for exotic dancers at Club Orleans, a gentlemen's club in Topeka. The central question in the case was whether strippers qualify for unemployment insurance.
A former Club Orleans semi-nude dancer filed suit in 2005 after she was denied unemployment insurance. The club maintained that the dancers rent space to perform at the club, meaning they are independent contractors not eligible for any benefits. But the state's labor department challenged that the club's dancers are actual employees because they are vital to the establishment's financial success.
"Club Orleans' main attraction is semi-nude female dancers. Without the dancers, nothing distinguishes Club Orleans from any other food and drink establishment," said the labor department in court papers obtained by the Kansas City Star
. "The proof of the extent of the dancers' integration into Club Orleans business is shown by billboards exhibiting the pictures of dancers, pictures of dancers on the outside of the club’s building, and newspaper advertisements with pictures of dancers and promotions involving dancers."
Court records also revealed a glimpse into the inner workings of the club. For example, the club owner reportedly stopped paying dancers a salary in 2004 and they were left to rely solely on the income generated by tips. Dancers also were required to pay for use of the stage and dressing rooms, as well as tip out the DJs and bouncers each shift.
It was this high level of control, the court said, that led to its decision to classify the dancers as legitimate employees, according to the Star.
Michael Merriam, an attorney for Milano's, the company that owns Club Orleans, said that the ruling "was incorrectly decided."
"The court relied almost entirely on the fact that we had some house rules which were requested by the dancers. They were designed to keep everything legal," Merriam told ABC News. "And the court relied on that fact alone to say we had control over them and that made them employees."
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