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Ritz Cabaret in Baltimore. (The Daily Record / Maximilian Franz)

Unpaid wages lawsuit against strip club to proceed with anonymous plaintiff

A potential class-action lawsuit claiming the Ritz Cabaret strip club in Baltimore paid its exotic dancers less than the minimum wage can move forward with an anonymous lead plaintiff, a federal judge has ruled.

The former employee, who filed the lawsuit last July, can continue to pursue the litigation using the pseudonym “Gabrielle Doe” due to her fear of suffering physical and verbal abuse from the defendants if she forced to reveal her identity, U.S. District Judge William D. Quarles Jr. ruled.

Doe filed a sworn affidavit last year stating employees at the Ritz Cabaret physically abused her while she was working there, as well as used derogatory language toward her and threatened her with forced sexual favors. Her former employers also still have access to her personal information, including her home address, she said.

Doe also alleged that she could be fired by her current employer if her name was attached to the lawsuit and blacklisted from working in the industry.

Quarles, in denying the defendants’ motion to dismiss Tuesday, ruled Doe’s concern about retaliation was legitimate.

“Doe is not merely concerned with avoiding annoyance or criticism; her unrebutted affidavit articulates a legitimate fear of physical and mental harm that may arise if her identity is revealed,” Quarles wrote. “Although the threat of economic harm does not merit anonymity, harassment by the Defendants or Doe’s current employer does.”

From January 2012 to August 2014, Doe worked about 55 hours a week as an exotic dancer at the Ritz Cabaret, the complaint states. She and other dancers were not paid the minimum wage for each hour worked but instead were charged fees to start their shifts and fined for reporting late to work, the complaint states.

As a result, Doe paid the defendants $75 or more during a typical shift, which led to her “receiving negative wages,” according to the complaint. Doe’s lawsuit alleges the defendants — which include several managers and owners of the club — violated the federal Fair Labor Standards Act and the Maryland Wage and Hour Law.

The lawsuit seeks unpaid wages plus interest for members of the class, defined as current or former exotic dancers who worked at the Ritz Cabaret between July 2011 and July 2014 and were wrongfully classified as independent contractors rather than employees. The suit estimates that 75 or more dancers meet that definition.

Quarles rejected the defendants’ argument that they would not be able to refute the allegations of someone whose identity is unknown, particularly because the complaint was filed on behalf of a class of dancers and alleges “widespread noncompliance” with state and federal labor laws. Quarles also cited a “strong public interest” in preventing worker exploitation.

Joseph Murtha of Murtha, Psoras & Lanasa LLC in Lutherville, a lawyer for Doe, did not return a message Thursday seeking comment. Edward L. Cardona of Murphy, Falcon & Murphy P.A. in Baltimore, a lawyer representing the Ritz Cabaret, declined to comment Thursday.

The case is Gabrielle Doe v. The New Ritz Inc., et al., 1:14-cv-02367-WDQ.

About Lauren Kirkwood

Lauren Kirkwood covers the business of law beat at The Daily Record.