A payday of nearly $150,000 could be coming for three Anchorage strippers after a judge's recent decision that the clubs in which they danced cheated the women out of back wages.
After legal wrangling that stretched over the better part of six years, last week's decision is a mixed bag for the women -- Shanna Thornton, Jennifer Prater and Heather Kidd -- who said they stripped to the tune of more than $324,000 for which they hadn't been paid.
It wasn't tips from customers that was in dispute: The women claimed the clubs, the Crazy Horse Saloon and Fantasies on 5th Avenue, did not pay them for the hours they worked, charged them illegal fees and forced them to give cash they took in as tips to other employees, like DJs and "house moms."
"This isn't about how much money I make in tips," Prater told the Daily News in 2006. "This is about wage and hour laws. Just because of what we do, does not mean employers don't have to follow the law."
The clubs' owners, Jeanette Johnson at Crazy Horse and Kathleen and Carol Hartman at Fantasies, said they'd done nothing wrong and refused offers to reach a settlement, a lawyer for the strippers said. After nearly a half-dozen years of battling in state and federal court, the case came to a head in January with a four-day trial before U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Burgess.
Burgess' decision June 14 does not end the fight -- the defendants can still file motions for the judge to reconsider -- but it says the women should be paid for overtime and other hours they proved they had worked. The judge said the women were not due the fees and tips they said they were badgered into paying.
Among the reasons the strippers are owed money, Burgess wrote in his decision that the clubs' payment systems were set up to "shift the risk of poor business to, and impose the expenses of running the business on, the individual dancers as if they were independent contractors as opposed to employees and evade the requirements of the (Federal Labor Standards Act) and the (Alaska Wage and Hour Act)."
A 1987 Alaska Supreme Court ruling defined strippers as club employees, not as independent contractors who control their own hours. Employees, by contrast, must be paid minimum wage and their tips cannot replace minimum wage, according to the law.
The decision says Thornton should receive $12,419.50 from Crazy Horse and $27,708.70 from Fantasies, and Prater and Kidd $20,380.35 and $88,879.99, respectively, from Crazy Horse.
Efforts Wednesday to reach the women or their lawyer were unsuccessful.
Reach Casey Grove at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4589.
By CASEY GROVE
Anchorage Daily News