Nude dancers to go back to court to demand rejection of Deja Vu’s class action settlement
Flint, Mich. — Nude strippers will be back on court on Tuesday, June 6 to formally announce their intention to file a rejection against a class action settlement of exploitation against the Flint-based Déjà Vu gentlemen clubs.
Merry Clark, a titty bar dancer who currently resides in Kalamazoo, was incensed at the settlement, which totals $6,500,000.00 estimated. She told the Detroit Free Press she and other nude dancers were outrageously exploited for years on top of years by Déjà Vu Services and related companies for “sweaty gross work”.
Though it’s listed as a $6.5-million settlement, the settlement, if approved by US District Judge Stephen Murphy, would provide only $920,000.00 in cash payments to settle claims from more than 28,000 dancers who worked at 64 different clubs in 18 states, including 11 in Michigan, Boston attorney Harold Lichten argued in a May 12 court filing.
Most of the rest of the “egregiously unfair and unreasonable” settlement would pay for coupons the dancers could use to offset future fees charged by the clubs, plus about $1 million in attorney fees, Mr. Lichten added.
In short, the nude strippers would get back less than $400.00 each if the settlement is approved.
Lawyers for titty bar dancers from other locations, such as Boston, Nashville and Memphis, have already filed objections to the meager settlement, given that information. They charge that the settlement is unfair, unreasonable, and inadequate.
Judge Murphy cannot in any way modify the settlement. He can only either approve it or, as the nude strippers’ attorneys are requesting, reject it.
The suit alleges the nude and nearly nude strippers are paid no wages but required to pay rent to the clubs, plus 30% or more of their tips. The strippers also face docked pay for leaving early or showing up late, the suit alleges.
Bradley Shafer, a Lansing attorney representing Déjà Vu, said the settlement does not involve “coupons,” but a $4.5-million pool of money that can be used by dancers determined to be independent contractors to pay fees the dancers would otherwise have to pay from their own pockets. Also, in clubs that operate on an independent contractor model, dancers will receive cash payments from that pool, Mr. Shafer told the Free Press.
Déjà Vu vociferously denied any wrongdoing in the lawsuit. They started off with locations only in Michigan, but have expanded nationwide and have a location in Greenville.
Mr. Lichten, representing California dancers Eva Cabrera and Brittney Halverson, said strippers have brought a series of lawsuits around the country in recent years, including one such lawsuit that was filed in the Upper Midlands of South Carolina in 2014 against Platinum Plus. It ended with a settlement of $30,153.00 for Kaleigh Dittus and other Upper Midlands plaintiffs. Most of the lawsuits in this decade challenges strippers’ classification as independent contractors. Some of the strippers have received $50,000.00 or more each when they pursued their claims as individuals and often thousands or tens of thousands of dollars when part of a class action.
In contrast, the proposed settlement “would put an end to a number of previously filed actions against individual clubs, and would allow dancers to receive no more than a few hundred dollars in cash if they submit a claim form,” Mr. Lichten wrote.
Anyone with an existing lawsuit elsewhere can opt out of the settlement and continue their suit, Mr. Shafer countered.
So far, close to 3,000 dancers have filed claims to share in the $920,000.00 cash portion of the settlement, and with notices recently sent a second time to 8,000 dancers, that number is likely to grow, he said.
This lawsuit began a few months ago, when a Bay City stripper hit Déjà Vu clubs with a lawsuit in Saginaw, but it was expanded recently to include Déjà Vu clubs and all of their affiliates nationwide. The lawsuit’s origins go back almost a decade earlier, to a similar lawsuit filed in 2008 and settled in 2011, but that had a settlement that did not include requirements that Déjà Vu determine, going forward, whether dancers were, in fact, club employees or independent contractors.
Ms. Clark said the proposed settlement doesn’t address the “highly questionable practice” of the clubs charging “rent fees” to the dancers, who receive no share of the admission fees charged patrons entering the club.
“This is outrageous exploitation,” she told the Free Press. “The entertainers are the ones who are generating the admission fees in the first place.”
As for the coupons, they just facilitate more exploitation, Clark said. “Great, we got you a small settlement, now pay us back over time with that sweaty gross work you do.”
The case and settlement will be heard before the US District Court in Detroit on June 6.