April 17, 2024 The Best Source of News, Culture, Lifestyle for Culver City, Mar Vista, Del Rey, Palms and West Los Angeles

250 strippers testify against managers who took half of her earned tips

(Thinkstock)
(Thinkstock)

Taking a line from the 1983 Donna Summer hit, “She Works Hard for the Money,” an attorney for nearly 250 strippers told a jury Tuesday that managers at Paradise Showgirls in Industry wrongfully took nearly half of her clients’ tips earned from private dances with customers.

“These women are dancers who have not been treated right,” K.L. Myles said in her opening statement in trial of a class-action suit brought by Quinece “Sparkle” Hills in Los Angeles Superior Court.

Hills is the lead plaintiff and represents herself and 248 other dancers who worked at the club from May 2006 until the present.

“They believe the club wrongfully took money from them,” Myles said.

But club attorney Ernest Franceschi said it is not illegal for Paradise Showgirls management to require dancers to share tips they receive directly from customers for lap dances on couches near the stage, or for longer sessions with the women in so-called VIP rooms.

“It’s not unlike a hair salon that rents space to a barber or a beautician,” he said.

Franceschi said Paradise Showgirls makes its money from the rental fees from the performers, the admission price and the service of non-alcoholic beverages.

Franceschi said it’s not even clear that Hills ever worked at Paradise Showgirls, which is located on a gritty commercial stretch of Valley Boulevard.

“We don’t have any evidence of Ms. Hills dancing at Paradise Showgirls,” he said.

Hills, the first witness in the trial, said she was hired the same day she auditioned at Paradise Showgirls 2005 and that her only income was her share of tips from customers. But she testified she never received any written documentation from the club about the money she made.

Hills, who said she grew up in the Inland Empire and now lives in the South Bay, testified that she became a stripper at age 19 so that she could be financially independent from her mother. She said her first club was called Exotica at the time and that it also was in Industry. She said she found out about Paradise Showgirls from a billboard posted along a freeway.

Hills said her mother was not enthusiastic about her taking such a job.

“She wasn’t for it at all, but there was nothing she could do to stop it,” Hills said.”So she told me to just be safe.”

Hills said club bosses told her that after she got off the stage to perform a nude dance to two songs, she was required to mingle with the mostly male crowd to offer them lap dances for $40. VIP dances cost more, she said.

“We were to socialize with them and convince them to get a dance,” Hills said.

After each shift of about six hours, she and the other dancers were required to line up in the manager’s office, Hills said.

“At the end of the night, I had to turn over about 45 percent of whatever I made,” she said.

Hills said that meant she typically had to turn over $14 of the $40 she made for each lap dance.

Hills said Paradise Showgirls kept what was known as an “86 list” of dancers who were fired for not doing what was expected of them. She said there were two main rules to follow to keep working there.

“Pay your fees at the end of the night and don’t get overly intoxicated,” she said. “If you didn’t pay, you couldn’t come back.”

Hills said that before she filed the lawsuit, she did not think the club was doing anything wrong by taking a portion of her tips.

“At the time I just thought that was how the industry worked and so I did what I had to do,” she said.

Hills said she last danced at Paradise Showgirls in 2007 and quit nude dancing altogether in 2011. She said she now works as a makeup artist and has a 4-year-old son.

“I just want to be a mom and be a good example,” she said.

Cross-examined by Franceschi, Hills said the cash she and the other dancers received for private dancers were actually fees and that any money customers gave in addition were tips.

Franceschi pressed Hills to explain how she could have worked at Paradise Showgirls when she said during a deposition that she was a dancer during the same time at another club, Deja Vu near Montclair.

“Was it because you never worked there (at Paradise)?” Franceschi asked.

“No, that’s not true,” Hills replied, explaining that she worked at various clubs and sometimes for more than one at the same time.

Hills said that before becoming a dancer, she made minimum wage at Albertsons and later Target.

“Did you make substantially more money than at Target and Albertsons?,” Franceschi asked.

“Yes,” Hills answered.

Asked why she filed the lawsuit, Hills replied, “I think that any money a woman makes, she should be able to keep.”

In other testimony, Scott Yap, still a manager at Paradise Showgirls, said under questioning by Myles that the club collectively took more than $1,000 from dancers on a given shift before they left for the day. He said he recorded the club income on “dance sheets,” some of which were displayed to the jury.

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