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Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Danny's Restaurant, LLC

United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Northern Division

September 11, 2018

EQUAL EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITY COMMISSION PLAINTIFF
v.
DANNY'S RESTAURANT, LLC AND DANNY'S OF JACKSON, LLC F/K/A BABY O'S RESTAURANT, INC. D/B/A DANNY'S DOWNTOWN CABARET DEFENDANTS

          ORDER ON MOTION FOR PARTIAL SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          HENRY T. WINGATE, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the court is the Motion for Partial Summary Judgment filed by the Plaintiff, United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (hereafter “EEOC”) [doc. no. 75]. Defendant, Danny's of Jackson LLC (hereafter “Danny's of Jackson” or “Defendant”) opposes the motion. The parties have completed briefing and this court is ready to rule.

         This lawsuit is an enforcement action brought by the EEOC under the auspices of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964[1], as amended, and the Civil Rights Act of 1991, to correct allegedly unlawful employment practices of the Defendant based on race. The suit seeks relief on behalf of Ashley Williams and other Black female exotic dancers, namely, Latoria Garner; Sharday Moss; Jordyn Riddle; and Adrea Samuel (hereafter referred to collectively as ‘complainants'). They contend that they were subjected to disparate terms and conditions of employment based on their race.

         Defendant insists that it is not liable for the alleged violations of Title VII, because, inter alia, [2] the dancers here involved were not ‘employees' of Defendant, but ‘independent contractors'. Plaintiff herein then brings this motion for partial summary judgment in its favor on that key issue of this dispute: whether complainants involved in this litigation were ‘employees' rather than ‘independent contractors.'

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         The complainants worked as exotic dancers at the Danny's Downtown Cabaret, a strip club located in downtown Jackson, Mississippi, for varying periods of time. They earned money through customer tips for stage performances and through fees for private dances.[3] Defendant did not pay, and does not pay, dancers minimum wage, a regular salary, or overtime. Nevertheless, the EEOC contends that the degree of control Danny's exerted over numerous aspects of its dancers' work --setting requirements for their hours, regulating their conduct while at work, setting the fees charged for private dances, approving the music used, and generally controlling their ability to earn money - destroys any arguments that they were independent contractors. Therefore, says EEOC, this affirmative defense fails as a matter of law and the EEOC is entitled to partial summary judgment on this issue.

         Everyone who worked at Danny's was required to sign an “Entertainment Lease, ” which spelled out the rules of conduct, how scheduling worked and other matters Wade deposition [doc. no. 75-5 p. 27]. This document, in addition, stated that no employment relationship existed between Danny's and the signatory, and even described the relationship at one point as that of “landlord and tenant.” Entertainment Lease of Ashley Williams [doc. no. 75-4 at p. 3 ¶ 12]. Page 3 of the Entertainment Lease offers the following:

12. Business Relationship of Parties. The parties acknowledge and represent that the business relationship created between the Club and Entertainer is that of landlord and tenant for the joint and non-exclusive leasing of the Premises (meaning that other entertainers are also leasing portions of the Premises at the same time), and that his [sic] relationship is a material (meaning significant) part of this Lease. THE PARTIES SPECIFICALLY DISAVOW ANY EMPLOYMENT RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THEM, and agree that this Lease shall not be interpreted as creating an employer/employee relationship or any contract for employment. Entertainer acknowledges and represents that she is providing no services for or to the Club and that the Club does not employ her in any capacity. . . .

Entertainment Lease of Ashley Williams [doc. no. 75-4 at p. 3 ¶ 12].

         Initially, this suit was brought against Danny's Restaurant, LLC, as well as against Danny's of Jackson, LLC. Danny's Restaurant, LLC did not file an answer nor enter an appearance in this cause. The Clerk of Court entered default against it on August 24, 2017 [doc. no. 41]. The remaining Defendant, Danny's of Jackson, LLC, has owned and operated a strip club near downtown Jackson known as Danny's Downtown Cabaret, since on or about April of 2016. Prior to April of 2016, Baby O's Restaurant, Inc. (hereafter “Baby O's”) owned and operated Danny's Downtown Cabaret at the same location. EEOC says that Danny's of Jackson is the successor in interest to Baby O's .

         Earlier, the EEOC had issued a Letter of Determination on June 2, 2016, finding reasonable cause to believe that the Defendant had violated Title VII. Efforts at conciliation[4] failed and on July 29, 2016, the Plaintiff issued to Defendants a Notice of Failure of Conciliation. Thereafter, on September 30, 2016, EEOC filed the instant litigation on behalf of the complainants. Plaintiff seeks, inter alia, injunctive relief, damages and other affirmative relief to make the complainants whole. Complainant Ashley Williams, joins in the accusations championed by the others, but adds a charge of wrongful termination, for which she seeks, in addition, back pay and front pay or reinstatement in lieu thereof. Plaintiff also asks for punitive damages for what it alleges to be malicious and reckless conduct.

         SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

         Summary judgment is appropriate if “the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a); Copeland v. Nunan, 250 F.3d 743 (5th Cir. 2001); see also Wyatt v. Hunt Plywood Company, Inc., 297 F.3d 405, 408-09 (2002). When assessing whether a dispute to any material fact exists, all of the evidence in the record must be considered, but the court must refrain from making credibility determinations or weighing the evidence. Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150, 120 S.Ct. 2097, 147 L.Ed.2d 105 (2000); instead, the court is to “draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party.” Id.; Wyatt, 297 F.3d at 409. All evidence and the reasonable inferences to be drawn therefrom must be viewed in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion. United States v. Diebold, Inc. 369 U.S. 654, 655 (1962).

         A party, however, cannot defeat summary judgment with conclusory allegations, unsubstantiated assertions, or “only a scintilla of evidence.” TIG Ins. Co. v. Sedgwick James ofWash. 276 F.3d 754, 759 (5th Cir. 2002); S.E.C. v. Recile, 10 F.3d 1093, 1097 (5th Cir. 1997); Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir.1994). Summary judgment is appropriate if a reasonable jury could not return a ...


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