A Day in Court at the Bureau of Erotic Dancing Disputes

          Two strippers have sued the club where they work for improperly classifying them as independent contractors instead of employees.

                                                                       The Boston Globe


The plaintiff

Contrary to what a lot of people think, it’s not easy being an administrative judge at the Bureau of Erotic Dance Disputes (“BEDD”).  That’s a lawyer thing, putting stuff in quotes inside parentheses.

There are the threats of potential violence by disgruntled tippers.  There are the, uh, “boyfriends,” hanging around for their cut of any big verdict.  And there are the owners, a lower class of animal life than which you won’t find anywhere outside of the silverfish under your kitchen sink.  Sorry for the “Throw your mother off the train a kiss” syntax; we judges can get convoluted when we get worked up.

But the girls–let me tell you–they’ll break your heart.  They’re working so hard to put themselves through school, or to move to a better neighborhood, or to get a breast augmentation.  I’ll admit it–I’m an activist judge, and if I can find any reason to rule in favor of the parade of Tiffany Ambers, Chastity Foxxes and Amber Tiffanys that passes through my courtroom day after day, I’ll jump on it like a duck on a June bug.

I put on my robe and my clerk checks my hair after my head passes through the neck hole.

“Looks okay, boss,” he says, and we’re ready to start another day meting out blind justice on behalf of women you can’t take your eyes off of.

“Oyez, oyez, oyez,” my clerk yells as I walk into the court room.  I don’t know what the hell “oyez” means–I think it’s some kind of shellfish–but he has to say it.  “All rise–the court of the Honorable J. Willington Ballard”–that’s me–”is now in session.”

“Be seated,” I say.  “Clerk, call the first case.”

“Crystal Goblet vs. Gentlemen’s VIP Lounge II,” my clerk bawls out.

“Are the parties and their counsel present?” I ask.

“Anthony Vigliano on behalf of Gentlemen’s VIP Lounge II, your honor.”

“Counsellor, can I ask you something?”

“Shoot.”

“Is there ever a Gentlemen’s VIP Lounge I, or do you just start with Roman numeral II?”

“Your honor, under adult entertainment signage regulations, you are prohibited from using a single Roman numeral I–you go straight to II or even III.”

“And why is that?”

“I dunno–a single ‘I’ might confuse people, make ‘em think you’re an optician or something, or were referring to yourself.”

“Thank you for that clarification.  And on behalf of the plaintiff?”

A sultry brunette rises from the table on the other side of the room.  “Crystal Goblet, your honor,” she says with a voice that’s as warm and soft as a kitten’s belly.  “I’ll be representing myself.”

It is at this point that I must warn any party who comes into my courtroom and proposes to appear pro se–that’s Latin for ‘by her own bodacious self’.

“Miss Goblet, may I remind you of the old adage–’An erotic dancer who represents herself has . . . ‘”–I hesitate for a moment, stunned by the combination of girl-next-door-freshness and tacky beauty that she presents to me–”‘one babelicious beauty for a client’?”

“I don’t know that adage,” she says, batting her eyelashes like a hummingbird supping at a Smith & Hawken feeder.  “Do you know the one about ‘The cat wanted fish but would not wet her feet?’” she asks demurely.

“Can’t say that I do,” I reply, looking up at the ceiling as I search my memory before opposing counsel interrupts my reverie.

“I object on the grounds it’s irrelevant.”

“Put a sock in it, counsellor,” I snap at him.  “If I had to listen to relevant stuff all day I’d quit tomorrow.”  I turn my attention back to the plaintiff:  “Miss Goblet–is that your real name?”

“It’s as real as the two little girls you’re staring at under my low-cut blouse.”

“Close enough.  You may present your case.”

She clears her throat, and lays out a compelling argument; how the defendant’s business was a tissue of lies, a web of deceit, and a diaphanous cheesecloth.  How she and other dancers were charged to perform, subjected to late fees and required to participate in every dance routine, no matter how tawdry!

“Counsellor,” I say, turning towards the defendant’s lawyer, “you know that in Massachusetts we have a three-prong test–sort of like a salad fork–to determine whether an individual is an employee or an independent contractor, correct?”

“I know,” Vigliano says.  “Under Attorney General Advisory 2008/1, the three prongs are referred to as prongs one, two and three, or as prongs A, B and C.”

He’s done his homework.  “And how do you respond?”


Sort of like this.

 

“Okay,” he says as he wipes flop sweat off his brow and begins.  “Prong number one is freedom from control.  Gentlemen’s VIP Lounge II never told Ms. Goblet how to dance.  She’s free to shake her booty anyway she wants.”

The plaintiff rises, seething with anger.  “That’s not true!” she fairly shouts.  “On Thanksgiving I had to strip out of a Puritan costume–it was sick!”


“The whipped cream isn’t just for the pumpkin pie!”

 

“I’ll defer judgment on that point,” I say.  “Continue, Mr. Vigliano.”

“Prong number two is that the service in question must be performed outside the usual course of business of the employer,” he says.

“And how do you square that with a club whose sole purpose–whose very raison d’etre . . .”

“We don’t serve raisins,” he says, “but we are primarily in the business of serving food.  We are not–repeat not . . .”

“Not . . .”

“You don’t have to repeat it, I did–we are not in the dancing business.”

I turn to the plaintiff.  “Ms. Goblet?”

“Your honor,” she says, one eyebrow raised to express her skepticism, “do you call microwaveable stuffed quahogs ‘food’?”

I consider this question for a moment.

“Recall what Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. said,” she adds. ”‘The life of the law has not been logic, but experience.’”


Holmes:  “I seem to have flecks of quahog in my mustache.”

 

“Your honor,” Vigliano interjects, “he also said ‘Three generations of imbeciles is enough.’”

“I thought that was Yogi Berra,” I reply.  “Anyway, let me hear about the third prong.”

“Well,” Vigliano begins, “prong three is whether the individual is customarily engaged in an independently established trade, occupation, profession or business.  If so, she’s an independent contractor.  And as we all know, being an exotic dancer is thisclose to being a member of the world’s oldest profession.”

“Your honor, I object,” Goblet exclaims.  “I am a performing artist who works hard to perfect her craft.  My expenses for practice poles alone last year totalled . . .”

“Sustained as prejudicial,” I say.  “This doesn’t strike me as a difficult case,” I continue, “so I’m going to rule from the bench.”

You could hear a pin drop in the courtroom as plaintiff and defendant’s counsel hold their breath.

“Bailiff, please remove the woman in the back row who dropped the pin,” I say.  “Given the facts and circumstances of the case, I rule that the plaintiff was an employee and therefore entitled to overtime, health insurance, Social Security and unemployment.”

“Is there a consolation prize?” defendant’s counsel asks, crestfallen.

“Counsellor, your crest has fallen,” I advise him under my voice.

“Oh, thanks,” he says as he zips himself up.

“For the loser in today’s match we have the home version of ‘A Day in Court at the Bureau of Erotic Dance Disputes’, a 44-piece jumbo pack of Mrs. Paul’s Crunchy-Style Fish Sticks, and a year’s supply of modeling clay.”

“Oh, judge,” Crystal says, growing misty-eyed.  “I don’t know how I’ll ever repay you.”

I choke back my own tears, which tend to flow like a lawn sprinkler whenever I see that justice has been done.  After a moment, I’m able to speak.

“We’ll think of something.”

Available in Kindle and print format on amazon.com as part of the collection “Boston Baroques.”

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