A former exotic dancer known as Queen claims she was unfairly stripped of her tip money and fired for being a witness in a separate case against Norma Jean’s Nite Club.
Raqiya Whyte filed suit Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore against PP&G Inc., which runs Norma Jean’s, and Lisa Diane Ireland, identified in the suit as the owner of PP&G. In addition to the wrongful discharge claim, Whyte alleges she was only paid in tips and was required to pay the club $45 in tips plus fees to the DJ each shift.
“Not only did they violate her federal rights, because they didn’t pay her wages, she did the right thing and was a witness in another case for another dancer,” said Whyte’s attorney, J. Wiggs of The Wiggs Law Group LLC in Upper Marlboro.
Wiggs said this may be the first lawsuit in Maryland filed by a dancer claiming wrongful discharge by retaliation.
Whyte had agreed to be a witness in a Fair Labor Standards Act lawsuit filed by former exotic dancer Unique S. Butler against PP&G Inc. in February. The action is pending in U.S. District Court and survived a motion to dismiss earlier this month. Butler’s suit was filed by a different attorney, Jimmy A. Bell of Bowie, but Wiggs is co-counsel on the case.
Whyte provided testimony about the tip fees the club charged dancers. Her attorney disclosed that fact to the club’s management in August, the complaint says.
She took a vacation not long after that, returning Sept. 9. However, when Whyte returned to the club, the manager told her the owners had told him she was fired and banned from the club because she was a witness in Butler’s lawsuit.
Calls placed to the night club were not returned.
According to its website, Norma Jean’s is a gentlemen’s club with nude exotic dancers that is “known for the most beautiful and most erotic, diverse mix of women the city has to offer.”
Wiggs said Whyte not only lost her job, but cannot find other employment as an exotic dancer because her former employers have told other clubs not to hire her, Wiggs said.
“A lot of places won’t touch her because they said bad things about her,” Wiggs said.
Whyte, of Reisterstown, filed the lawsuit on behalf of herself and others similarly situated and is seeking class action status under the Fair Labor Standards Act. Whyte claims the number in the class exceeds 50 current and former dancers.
Whyte began working at the strip club in September 2010. She worked four shifts per week, a total of 40 hours a week, but she and other dancers were not paid wages. She appeared on stage at fixed times and performed lap dances, which management kept track of.
Whyte claims she had to pay $45 of her tips to the club and an additional $20 if she was late. She also had to pay $10 to $15 to the DJ each shift “for the right to work at the club,” according to the lawsuit.
Wiggs, who has represented dancers in other wage violation lawsuits, said it is common practice for employers to take a portion of dancers’ tips.
“The club is trying to say the fee was optional, but it was not,” Wiggs said.
As in Butler’s lawsuit against Norma Jean’s, Whyte specifically alleges she was an employee, rather than an independent contractor who would not be covered by FLSA.
Both lawsuits claim the company controlled their work by, for example, keeping records of the lap dances they performed on each shift. Both women also claim the dancers were not required to have any specific level of skill or training; Whyte says they were not even required to take a pole-dancing class. She also claims women were hired based on their level of attractiveness and not talent.
Both suits claim Norma Jean’s violated the federal Fair Labor Standards Act by not paying minimum wage, and the Maryland Wage Payment and Wage Collection Law by withholding money from their tips.
Whyte’s suit also includes counts for wrongful discharge and retaliation under the Fair Labor Standards Act, claiming she was fired for being a witness in Butler’s case.
Whyte is seeking all unpaid or improperly deducted wages, plus three times the amount of the unpaid wages, interest, attorneys’ fees, costs and punitive damages for the wage violations. She asked for $250,000 in compensatory damages and $500,000 in punitive damages for wrongful discharge, and the same amounts for wrongful discharge under the FLSA.