Woman Who Was Shot While Earning Money As An “Exotic Dancer” Is Denied Workers’ Compensation

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The case is LeAndra Lewis v. L.B. Dynasty, Inc., d/b/a Boom Boom Room Studio 54 and the South Carolina Uninsured Employers’ Fund, and the full opinion is here. Affirming a denial of Workers Compensation benefits, the South Carolina Court of Appeals explained their factfinding as follows:

The night Lewis was shot was the second or third night she danced at the Boom Boom Room. She had not danced there the night before, and she could not remember the previous time or times she was there. Lewis presented several fellow exotic dancers as witnesses to explain that dancers often choose a city and a club to dance in on a particular night and travel there uninvited and unannounced. In keeping with this practice, Lewis showed up at the Boom Boom Room on this particular night, showed her identification to prove she was at least eighteen years old, and paid the required “tip-out” fee in cash to the club. She did not fill out an employment application and did not sign an employment agreement. The club gave her a “rules sheet,” she went to the dressing room to put on her outfit, and she danced.

At some point during the night, an altercation broke out in the club. There was gunfire, and a stray bullet hit Lewis in the abdomen. She suffered serious injuries to her intestines, liver, pancreas, kidney, and uterus. Surgeons removed one kidney, and doctors informed her she may never be able to have children due to the injuries to her uterus. According to her testimony, extensive scarring from the gunshot wound left her unemployable as an exotic dancer.

Lewis filed a claim for benefits with the workers’ compensation commission. Because the club had no insurance, the South Carolina Uninsured Employers’ Fund was forced to defend. Both the single commissioner and the appellate panel denied Lewis’s claim based on the finding that she was not an employee. …

… Lewis claims that the club’s managers “controlled” her by searching her when she arrived that night, requiring her to pay the “tip-out” fee, and directing her to the manager’s office and then the dressing room. She argues in her brief the club’s control over her is demonstrated by these facts:

She danced when the club told her to dance; the club selected the music; the club set her hours; the club required her to perform on demand; the club required her to strive to get V.I.P. dances; the club set her tip-out and the floor rate for V.I.P. dances; and the club required her to bring drinks from the bar.

She argues that the club furnished equipment, such as the stage for dancing; poles to assist the dancers; private rooms for V.I.P. dances; tables, chairs, and couches for the customers; and even glasses in which the bartenders poured their drinks. In her brief, Lewis states, “The club provided the dancers with cleaning solution, towels, and a basket for collecting money while on stage, and the club provided the dancers with lockers for their belongings.”

Lewis discounts the method of payment factor on these facts since the club paid her nothing, but simply took a cut of her tips. As to the right to fire factor, Lewis argues the club’s right to “fine” her or refuse her readmission to dance at the club for violating club rules weighs in favor of an employment relationship.

The court characterized Ms. Lewis’s occupation as “itinerant artistic performer.” The majority opinion is snide and contemptuous, and the plaintiff, who was nineteen years old when she was shot, is apparently struggling to support herself.

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