TUSCOLA, Ill. (WCIA) — An increasing number of exotic dancers have spoken up against the working conditions at a gentleman’s club in Tuscola.

Four more dancers in October and November joined a class action lawsuit filed in September against a company called Dirt Cheap, Inc., which runs The Hideout Club, and at least two more (out of an estimated 40 affected) are considering legal action.

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of Illinois, alleges The Hideout misclassifies its workers as contractors and doesn’t pay them for their work. Instead, the dancers pay management “kickback” fees and some of their tips, according to the complaint.

Athena Herman, one of the attornies representing the dancers, said Tuesday that some of her clients have ended their shifts owing more than they made.

Dorothenna and Kelsie — who requested they be identified by first name only — are considering joining the lawsuit. The pair, both exotic dancers, met working at The Hideout.

We could walk away with $100. And you’ve done made $3-, $400 off of us. That’s not fair to us.

Kelsie, The Hideout Club exotic dancer

Kelsie currently works at the Tuscola club. It’s been a second source of income off-and-on for the single mother of three for about seven years.

“I only started back due to the fact of a situation that happened, and kind of needed extra money,” she shared.

Dorothenna stopped working there about two years ago after a six-year stint. She’s worked for at least three other central Illinois clubs — including her current place of work at the Sundown Lounge in Decatur — and ranks The Hideout “the lowest.”

“I don’t think it’s a safe environment at all, at all,” she said with emphasis.

There wasn’t — and isn’t — security available for the dancers, Dorothenna and Kelsie said.

“We would walk out to our cars by ourselves. I mean, there would still be customers in the parking lot trying to hit on us and talk to us as we’re getting into our cars,” Dorothenna described.

“I’ve actually had somebody try to open up my car door and try to get in my car while I was out there and had to, like, pull off because he was trying to get in my car to go home with me.”

“I’ve been injured by customers,” Kelsie added. “I mean, I have scars, like so, where they grab you and don’t want to let go.”

While working under those conditions, Kelsie, Dorothenna and a few dozen other “similarly situated individuals” (as described in the lawsuit) say they weren’t — and still are not — paid a dime in wages.

As “the boss’s girlfriend,” Dorothenna saw ‘behind the curtain’ more than the average worker, she divulged about a former relationship with a manager (who was also a bartender) during a portion of her time at the club.

“And then after we had broken up, my dances were less versus how much I would normally make,” she said, pausing before adding, “Like, a lot less.”

A private dance — anything done off-stage — typically costs $20, according to Dorothenna and Kelsie.

“The bar gets [$]5, every time,” Kelsie explained.

The dancers went on to say that they often got to keep a lot less than the remaining $15.

“[I’d] get like [$]10,” Dorothenna said.

“Sometimes I would get [$]5, not paying attention because we’re trying to rush and everybody’s busy. They would hand you the money and then you shove it into your dance bag.”

The Sundown Lounge, in contrast, “takes $2 out of my dance fee,” she said.

“That’s it. Two bucks. And we don’t have to pay house fees. There’s none of that.”

At The Hideout, the dancers said they also have to fork over their tips at the end of each shift to be split, not only with other staff, but they said they watched some of their earnings go straight into managers’ pockets.

“Our tip-out was the money that they kept,” Dorothenna said.

“Like, they put it in their pockets. They didn’t put it into the register, they put it into their pockets.”

“We could walk away with $100. And you’ve done made three, $400 off of us,” Kelsie added. “That’s not fair to us.”

“I feel like that’s not right. I mean, I think they should have to pay us to dance there or at least cut that house fee out,” she concluded. “Why do we got to pay the house to dance there?”

Gratuities (tips) paid to employees “are the property of the employees, and employers shall not keep gratuities,” Illinois Public Act 101-509 reads.

The problem, according to Herman, is that the dancers have been falsely led to believe they are “non-employee contractors,” rather than employees.

They should have been classified as employees and treated as employees, Herman said.

“They are, were, and continue to be employees,” she continued.

If the judge agrees, Illinois Minimum Wage law would apparently apply, meaning The Hideout is required to compensate its dancers with a wage.

A worker is only to be considered a contractor and not an employee, according to the Illinois Department of Labor, if:

  • They are “free from control or direction” over their services; and
  • The services they are hired to perform are either “outside the usual course of business” or the services are performed away from the associated places of business; and
  • The worker “is engaged in an independently established trade, occupation, profession, or business.”

Current and former exotic dancers at The Hideout say management controls the price of their services and tips. Their services are central to the club’s business, and finally, they are not registered as independent businesses.

Dirt Cheap Inc., management (doing business as The Hideout Club) did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday.

“We’re doing our job,” Dorothenna said. “We’re there to make money. Get done. Go home to our families.”

Source: Illinois Department of Labor