Judges to decide if Milford exotic dancers were employees or contractors

HARTFORD — An exotic dancer forced to pay the owner of a gentlemen’s club $20 to $100 “rent” per shift plus DJ fees is “no different than if a hairdresser wanted to go into a barber shop or hair salon and rent a chair from the owner,” the club’s lawyer told an appellate court Thursday.

The argument concerned the case of Keepers, a Milford club connected to reputed former mobster Gus Curcio, and its former president, Joseph Regensburger. The Woodmont Road club and Regensburger lost a lawsuit from six exotic dancers saying they were not paid a minimum wage or for overtime.

The dancers — Crystal Horrocks, Sugeily Ortiz, Zuleyma Bella Lopez, Jacquelyne Green, Dina Danielle Caviello and Yaritza Reyes — originally filed their lawsuit nearly seven years ago, in May 2015.

“They didn’t want to be paid hourly,” Keepers’ lawyer, Stephen Bellis, said, referring to a contract the dancers had to sign to dance at Keepers. “Basically it boils down to this entire agreement is an independent contractor’s agreement.”

The dancers’ lawyer, Kenneth Krayeske, said the contract’s terms have been “outlawed in the United States of America since Franklin Delano Roosevelt was president.”

“If this was actual violent theft, we would be talking lots of prison time, and instead, because it’s wage theft, my clients have spent seven years chasing this money,” Krayeske said.

The case was referred to arbitration in 2016.

In 2019, after two days of testimony, an arbitrator sided with the dancers, concluding the dancers were in fact employees of the club and not independent contractors.

The arbitrator, retired judge Robert Holzberg, later calculated damages as $113,560.75 to the dancers and $85,000 in attorneys’ fees. A judge confirmed the arbitrator’s decision last October.

During arguments before Judges Bethany J. Alvord, Melanie L. Cradle, and Joseph P. Flynn, Bellis argued that the arbitrator calculated damages incorrectly, and that lap dance fees paid to the dancers should be deducted from the club’s liability.

Krayeske said case law was on the dancers’ side, “who are not the first plaintiffs to challenge exotic dance clubs on these entertainment lease agreements.”

“There’s been an entire wave of this litigation across the country that has resulted in multiple million dollars settlements and judgments against other clubs,” he said. “A recalcitrant defendant who has no interest in paying has forced us here.”