Getting Naked for Minimum Wage

And Keeping the Tips

Sue De Lapa

EXOTIC DANCERS: Owners of Santa Barbara’s Spearmint Rhino nude joint had a great little deal going. They and others running the chain of “gentlemen’s clubs” didn’t pay their exotic dancers a cent. Nada. Zip. No stinking W-2 forms or 1099s, either, according to a court case.

An employer’s dream. No cost for the vital ingredient: talent on the hoof. In fact, the women had to kick back a hefty chunk of their tips — or else.

Barney Brantingham

The “exotic dancers” in Santa Barbara, Santa Maria, Oxnard, and other places not only had to shell out to management for the privilege of shaking their ta-tas but had to share their tips with doormen, deejays, and everyone else in sight. Also induce suckers to buy a quota of drinks or else pay for the drinks themselves. You no like? Then put your clothes back on, and don’t let the door hit you on the fanny as you split.

As a result of illegally treating the women as cash cows, the average Spearmint Rhino in California and five other states racked up profits of $500,000 a year, according to a $12.9-million class-action settlement covering about 500 women who plied the ancient art of Terpsichore in the past three years, shedding their bikinis and inhibitions.

Tired of being exploited, in 2009, two women who danced at the Oxnard club, Christeen Rivera and Tracy Dawn Trauth, had the guts to defy the Rhino bosses and file suit. Now, due to the settlement signed by U.S. District Court Judge Virginia Phillips, Spearmint Rhino dancers are classified as employees instead of independent contractors, must be paid minimum wage (yes, strippers on minimum wage), and are entitled to full state and federal benefits and protections. And their tips are all theirs.

So what goes on behind those VIP doors? I have the names of two women who danced in Santa Barbara and Santa Maria, but I couldn’t reach them to get their eye-witness accounts. Suffice it to say, there’s money to be made in those back rooms. But at about 3 a.m. on September 2, 2006, things got deadly at the Santa Barbara club. A 26-year-old, five-foot-seven San Francisco accountant named David Klotz was legally drunk. In about 70 minutes of one-on-one lap dances, he ran up a $960 bill. Klotz angrily protested the charge and made a big mistake. He threw a punch at a bouncer.

Klotz ended up struggling facedown in a choke hold, with two bouncers on his back, one weighing 240 and the other about 460 pounds, according to police estimates. When cops arrived 21 minutes later, he was limp and had a weak pulse. He died the next day when his family pulled the plug because he was brain dead. No charges were filed because an autopsy showed that he had a preexisting heart condition. The next night it was business as usual at the Spearmint Rhino, lap dances cranking out the bucks and the same bouncers on duty.

ADIOS, TEXAS: I see that, at last count, more than 100,000 Texans have signed a petition asking for secession from the United States. I’ve done a nonscientific poll of a few Santa Barbarans who say, “If Texas wants to secede from the United States of America, the sooner the better.”

But if the Lone Star State reverted to the independent Republic of Texas it was before 1845, would it then have the right to also revert to slavery? When Texas was annexed to the U.S. as the 28th state, it came in with over 600,000 slaves, 30 percent of its population. Just wondering. On the positive side, secession would mean that the U.S. would never have another Texan president.

CHICKEN RUN: On Sunday, the usual Cars and Coffee gang will gather at Montecito’s Upper Village, ogle sleek autos as usual, and also donate frozen chickens for the needy at Unity Shoppe. At about 10 a.m., they’ll pile the chickens onto ice in Dana Newquist’s vintage fire truck and haul them down Cabrillo Boulevard and up State Street to Unity. (Cash donations will also be accepted.)


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