No Workers' Comp for Wounded Exotic Dancer
(CN) - A South Carolina woman who was shot while dancing at an exotic club cannot collect workers' compensation benefits, a state appeals court ruled.
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LeAndra Lewis, who was 19 at the time of the incident, regularly danced at Club Nikki's in Charlotte, N.C., but also worked for several other dance clubs in the Carolinas - a common practice, several of her fellow exotic dancers testified.
One of these clubs was the Boom Boom Room Studio 54 in Columbia, S.C., although she never filled out an employment application and did not sign a contract with the club's parent company, L.B. Dynasty Inc.
In the summer of 2008, while Lewis was dancing on the Boom Boom Room's stage, a fight broke out that culminated in gun fire.
A stray bullet hit Lewis in the abdomen. Doctors removed one her kidneys, and injuries to her uterus have threatened her ability to bear children.
Lewis also testified that the scarring from her wound has made her unemployable as an exotic dancer.
She filed for workers' compensation, and the South Carolina Uninsured Employers' Fund defended the case because the club lacked insurance.
The worker's compensation commission and appeals board denied her claim because she was not an employee. Lewis took the case to the South Carolina Court of Appeals, but she received the same response.
"She showed up unannounced, paid the club for the right to dance and receive tips from its customers, and kept almost all the money she received without paying any employment taxes. This arrangement left her free to walk out of the club at a moment's notice without any employment-related consequences other than to lose income," Chief Judge John Few wrote on the court's behalf.
"We agree with the workers' compensation commission's finding that Lewis is not an employee. Thus, the commission correctly concluded it had no jurisdiction to award benefits," he added.
Judge Paul Short Jr. dissented with his colleagues, citing cases from other states in which exotic dancers are considered employees.
He also noted that club provided all the tools the dancers needed except for costumes, set the prices for VIP dances, and required dancers to remit a portion of the VIP fees to the club.
Also, the club prohibited the dancers from removing the bottom of their costumes.
"Thus, under the totality of the circumstances, I find the club exercised the sufficient amount of control over Lewis in the performance of her work to establish an employment relationship, and the appellate panel erred in finding Lewis was an independent contractor," he added.