Strip Club Workers Awarded $6.5M For Having To Pay Earned Tips To Owner

(FOX 11 / CNS) A jury awarded $6.5 million Thursday to 249 exotic dancers who alleged the management of an Industry strip club illegally took tips they earned from private off-stage dances.

The jury deliberated for most of Tuesday and several hours Wednesday before signaling that they had reached a verdict in the case brought by the lead plaintiff and class representative, 29-year-old Quinece Hills, against Paradise Showgirls.

The verdict was sealed until this morning because Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michelle Rosenblatt could not be present late Wednesday afternoon.

The class-action lawsuit was filed in May 2010 and the plaintiffs were all dancers who performed at Paradise Showgirls from May 2006 to the present, according to Hills' attorney, K.L. Myles.

The lawyer said state law is unique when it comes to strippers because it allows performers of private dances to treat money directly obtained from customers as gratuities.

"We're very pleased that we had such a thoughtful and conscientious jury,'' Myles said.

Club managers admitted that at the end of the strippers' shifts, they took $14 of the $40 the dancers obtained from lap dances and $100 of the cash the performers obtained for "VIP dances'' that involved longer sessions with customers in a private room, Myles said.

She said a future hearing will be held in which the plaintiffs will ask the judge to issue an injunction against Paradise Showgirls to stop the practice of collecting portions of the dancers' tips.

Club attorney Ernest Franceschi said the award was about half of what the plaintiffs sought. He said there would be an appeal and that it may be years before many of the constitutional issues are resolved.

"This is by no means over,'' Franceschi said.

Franceschi said his clients were entitled to take portions of the strippers' money earned as the cost of renting small spaces at the club to perform private dances. He also said there was no documentation proving Hills ever worked at Paradise Showgirls, which is located on a gritty commercial stretch of Valley Boulevard.

A juror who voted in favor of the plaintiffs said she thought it was fair that the club charged rent, but that she and the other jurors were following the law.

"The law is the law, what can you do?,'' the Beverly Hills resident said, adding that she thought $6.5 million was a fair award.

Hills testified she became a stripper when she was 19. She said she auditioned at Paradise Showgirls in 2005, used the nickname Sparkle and danced at the club during portions of 2006 and 2007. She said she also was a stripper at several other Southland establishments.

Hills said she quit exotic dancing in 2011 and now works as a makeup artist. She said she grew up in the Inland Empire and now lives in the South Bay, where she is raising a 4-year-old son.

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