Workers’ comp cases often hinge on whether the injured person was considered an employee or contractor. Courts get these cases all the time involving professions like roofing and other construction trades. But recently, a state appeals court had a more exotic case to decide.
Specifically, a case about an exotic dancer, or as the Court of Appeals of South Carolina noted, “what most people would call being a stripper.”
LeAndra Lewis worked as a dancer at strip clubs.
On June 23, 2008, she was shot while dancing at the Boom Boom Room in Columbia, SC. A stray bullet from an altercation inside the club struck her. She was only 19 and suffered serious injuries to her intestines, liver, pancreas, kidney and uterus. Surgeons removed one kidney and said the damage to her uterus may prevent her from having children.
The scars from the injury left her unemployable as a stripper.
Lewis applied for workers’ comp benefits. A workers’ comp commissioner denied her claim, finding she wasn’t an employee. An appellate panel agreed. Lewis took her case to a state appeals court.
South Carolina applies a four-part test to determine whether someone is either an employee or contractor for purposes of workers’ comp coverage:
- Exercise of control. Lewis said the club told her when to dance, selected the music, set the order in which the dancers performed, told her to try to get V.I.P. dances and set the rate for the V.I.P. dances. However, the judges found the club didn’t tell her how to dance. “While the dance is going on, she has complete discretion,” the judges noted.
- Furnishing of equipment. Lewis noted the club provided the stage, poles, chairs and couches for the dancing. But the court found “the club did nothing more than allow her onto its premises.”
- Method of payment. The club didn’t pay Lewis. She had to pay the club a fee ($70 a night) to dance there, and then she kept a portion of the tips she made.
- Right to fire. Lewis said there were several reasons the club would fire strippers for disobeying the club’s rules. However, the judges found “the employment ‘relationship’ Lewis claims existed was never contemplated to last more than one night in the club.”
In the eyes of the judges, Lewis failed on all four parts of the employee-contractor test. It ruled she was a contractor and therefore should not be eligible for workers’ comp benefits.
One judge of the three-member panel dissented. The judge noted that other states, including Oklahoma and Virginia, had previously found strippers to be employees. The dissenter noted Lewis had to sign a form agreeing to comply with club rules; the club did provide all of the necessary equipment for the dancers to perform; they could not choose what order they performed on stage; the club set fees for dances; and the club fired dancers if they left before a certain time or danced out of turn.
What do you think? Was Lewis an employee or contractor? Should she get workers’ comp? Let us know what you think in the comments below.