BLUEFIELD – After a local chain of strip clubs asked to have a recently filed lawsuit by two dancers dismissed or stayed, the parties agreed to mediation.

Southern Xposure, its parent companies and owner Mahesh Patel filed to remove a complaint originally filed by Morgan Powell and later joined by Taylor Ward from Mercer Circuit Court to federal court in January.

The defendants filed a motion on Jan. 27, saying the court should dismiss or stay the action and order the plaintiffs to separately submit their arbitration claims based on arbitration agreements they signed and the Federal Arbitration Act.

On Feb. 13, Senior District Judge David A. Faber signed the parties' joint motion to stay the case pending outcome of mediation. That means the case is stayed for 60 days or until either party files a motion requesting that the court lift the stay. 

In the amended complaint filed Dec. 28 in Mercer Circuit Court, Ward joined the complaint Powell had filed earlier in the month. The named defendants are BCC Café Inc., BMC Café Inc., BRC Café Inc., MMC Café Inc. and PMC Café Inc., all doing business as Southern Xposure. Patel also is listed as a defendant.

Ward and Powell claims Southern Xposure violated the federal Fair Labor Standards Act and state Wage Payment and Collection Act.

Ward, who performed under the stage name Envy, worked as an exotic dancer from November 2013 until recently as the company’s locations in Princeton, Bradley, Charleston, Bluefield and Morgantown. She says she was the general manager at the Morgantown location as well.

Like Powell, she worked four to six shifts per week and was required to work Friday and Saturday from 7 or 8 p.m. until 3 or 4 a.m. She also claims the defendants didn’t keep complete and accurate records of time worked and did not pay her for the work duties she performed.

Powell worked at the Princeton and Bluefield locations from May 2009 to July 2016 under the stage name of Mary Jane.

“Defendants implemented and utilized a system under which each plaintiff was required and compelled to pay to defendants, out of her personal tips, $35.00 for each shift worked by plaintiff,” the amended complaint states. “Each plaintiff was on several occasions fined … up to $1,000.00 for alleged violations of policies of defendants, including talking with a customer at a location away from the property.”

Ward and Powell also claim the defendants set the order in which dancers were required to perform on stage, required them to be dancing on stage if they was not performing a private dance, controlled the music to which they performed, controlled their performance, set and controlled prices they could charge for private dances and lap dances, collected all payments for private dances and champagne dances, required them to become fully nude when dancing on stage even if there were no customers in the club and exercised control over them in the work place.

Because of the defendants’ actions, Ward and Powell claim they were not paid at an hourly rate at least equal to the minimum wage set by the Fair Labor Standards Act. They say they and other potential members of the class action were improperly classified as independent contractors, and they say the number of potential members of the class action exceeds 40.

Ward and Powell seek joint and several compensatory damages against the defendants for money unpaid to bring them and other potential class members to minimum FLSA wage standards and for unpaid wages under the Wage Payment and Collection Act. They also seek court costs, attorney fees and other relief.

Earlier in December, the same attorney representing Ward and Powell filed a similar lawsuit on behalf of three female bartenders against Southern Xposure in Mercer Circuit Court.

Nicole Selby, Michelle Lawson and Jessica Brady claim the defendants agreed to pay them at a rate of about $8 per hour plus tips from customers. But, they claim the defendants did not pay their wages for all hours worked each week. They say they typically were shorted two to five hours of work each week. It also says the defendants withheld tips from the plaintiffs. They say this is a violation of the WPCA.

And both cases are similar to class action filed Nov. 17 by a Raleigh County man who claims Patel and the chain of clubs also violated state wage laws.

Billy Grossi says he was hired by the defendants on an hourly basis, but he says “he was not paid for any of his time worked, and not paid overtime.”

Patel and his businesses are represented by Constance Weber of Kay Casto & Chaney in Charleston and Reynaldo Valazquez of Ford & Harrison in Miami.

Powell and Ward are being represented by attorney Garry G. Geffert of Martinsburg.

Southern District of West Virginia case number 1:17-cv-00765 (Mercer Circuit Court case number: 16-C-404)

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