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Judge deems Block stripper entitled to unpaid wages

November 8, 2013
By

Norma Jeans picUnique Butler, who used to strip at Norma Jean’s Nite Club (pictured, photo by Patrick Pilkey) on the Block, Baltimore’s downtown strip-club district, should be dancing with joy today. That’s because a federal judge yesterday decided she had been an “employee” of Norma Jean’s, not an “independent contractor” as the club had contended, and therefore she should’ve been paid at least the minimum wage under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), rather than working only for tips, minus a $45-per-shift fee she paid the club.

Now that U.S. District judge William Nickerson has ruled in Butler’s favor, the only thing left to determine is how much money she’s going to win – an issue that, as Nickerson explained in his ruling, will be determined at a yet-to-be-scheduled trial. Unless, of course, Norma Jean’s decides to settle instead.

Complicating the settlement picture, though, is another FLSA lawsuit against Norma Jean’s, filed in September by another former stripper, Raqiya Whyte, which seeks class-action status so that other Norma Jean’s  strippers who danced only for tips rather than wages can join in the fight. As the Nose reported in October, Whyte had been called as a witness in the Butler case –and subsequently lost her job at Norma Jean’s, prompting her minimum-wage suit to include another cause of action: that she was fired in retaliation for exercising her free-speech rights.

The club’s lawyer, former Baltimore City Circuit Court judge John Themelis, wrote a letter to Nickerson on Nov. 3 – before the judge ruled in Butler’s case – explaining that the prospects for a settlement in the Butler case had been dimmed substantially by the arrival of Whyte’s complaint.

“In light of the second case being filed before the settlement conference” in the Butler case, Themelis wrote, “it makes any settlement impossible,” especially given “the excessive numbers” Butler and her attorney, Jamon Wiggs, “have in the past discussed.” Themelis added that “I can assure you that the Plaintiff has no belief in settling any of the cases in a reasonable manner.”

If Themelis thought Butler and Wiggs were making unreasonable settlement demands before, Nickerson’s ruling – which strengthens Whyte’s position and may help her case gain class-action status – is likely to only exacerbate his frustrations.

  • TurntUpMyNose

    wow

  • john mosby

    Oh, a lawyer, former judge, defending a deep pocket corporation is frustrated…boo hoo…so sad…

  • William Bond

    Mr. Mosby,

    Judge Themelis was one of the only Baltimore City Circuit Court judges who was truly independent and would decide cases on the facts, not because of whom the parties were, which is very rare in the Baltimore City and Federal system.

    Also, more judges should follow his example to not spend their entire lives upon the bench, but to retire so they can actually earn some money.

  • Troy Williams

    so does she have to pay back taxes on the wages and all the tips. Did she report any tips. They start paying, they start taxing. Who wins?

  • realtalk

    do they really think they will shut this club down? no. do they really think the owner will settle? nope. not at all. are these some greedy h**s? yes, they are. i wouldnt give them shit.

  • ex dancer_successful woman

    Dancers file law suits against strip clubs all the time (and win) FYI, unfortunately most strip clubs are run by management that does not adhere to labor laws, etc so I hate to tell you that they probably will get a pretty fair settlement. We dont know their story or if theyre hoes, or if theyre greedy? You could never be a judge:(