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Exotic dancers at the Gold Club aren’t shy about much, but there are some things even they don’t bare in public. That would be their real names. As the former bosses of the San Francisco establishment try to fend off a wage-and-hour class action, they’re attempting to turn the dancers’ penchant for privacy into a defense advantage. Defense counsel Edi Thomas tried to persuade a San Francisco Superior Court judge last week that certifying a class in the case would wind up trampling on many dancers’ privacy rights. Many dancers are hard to contact — often by design — and moving ahead with a class action they don’t know about would violate their right to due process, Thomas argued. Also, contacting them about the suit could compromise their privacy. Though Judge James Warren went ahead and certified the class anyway, he seemed concerned about some of Thomas’ points. And the defense lawyer, a solo with offices in Michigan and San Diego, said she expected to resurrect them. “Because we think it’s such an important issue, that will be raised again,” Thomas said Thursday. “Dancers value their privacy, and I think it should be protected.” The three class representatives, she’s noted, filed their case under stage names. Lead class counsel James Quadra called the due process argument irrelevant. “It’s a tactic,” the San Francisco attorney said Thursday. “It’s all about reducing the amount of money defendants pay out.” The case began more than a year ago, when three dancers known as Grace, Kili and Debra sued the current and former owners of the club. The dancers allege that the owners treated their entertainers as independent contractors when they should have been employees. Calling it a “sham” arrangement, the women contend the club got the best of both worlds, controlling how the showgirls worked while eroding their tips with fees, and cheating them of hourly pay and other benefits. Solid Gold, the company that owned the Howard Street club for nearly all of the four years covered by the suit, says the women are far from victims. Thomas, who represents Solid Gold, asserts in court papers that the showgirls could take home upward of $500 a day “under these lucrative contracts.” But merits aside, turning the trio’s case into a class action would present “critical” due process problems, Thomas argued in briefs. Exotic dancers are an itinerant and extremely private lot, she contended. Those traits would make it difficult to locate the class members, an estimated 300 to 600 dancers who performed at the club between 2000 and 2004. “The recent history of dancer class actions bear[s] out that extremely few dancers ever receive notice, and fewer still participate — ultimately resulting in dancers’ having their due process rights trampled when their rights are adjudicated without their knowledge or meaningful consent,” Thomas wrote. Even if they’re reached, Thomas argued dancers will be “seriously disinclined” to take part in a class action. She filed declarations from four dancers who say they aren’t interested in being part of the case. Signing her stage name, a dancer named “Autumn” wrote she wouldn’t want to be considered an employee in this of all jobs. “I want to retain the freedom of choosing if, when and for whom I perform.” Unsolicited contact about the case, Thomas added in her briefs, would invade the dancers’ privacy and could even endanger some of them. In court Wednesday, Judge Warren seemed to leave the door open for more combat later, telling Thomas, “I think there are substantial, valid points there.” But he agreed with Quadra that they should be dealt with after certification. “There are myriad ways” to get the word out to potential class members, and address the questions Thomas raised, Quadra said Thursday. His firm, Moscone, Emblidge & Quadra, has pointed out in briefs that state court rules contemplate methods from newspapers and magazines to the radio, TV and the Internet. (Thomas apparently doesn’t think the club’s dancers share an interest in current events. In one brief she writes that, while publishing a notice in the Wall Street Journal may work in a securities fraud case, “What sort of publication could reliably reach 300-500 itinerant former exotic dancers?”) Though Thomas and Quadra’s outfits were a study in contrasts last week, both are veterans of workplace battles at San Francisco’s adult entertainment venues. Last year Thomas, who wore a leopard-print jacket to court Wednesday, successfully defended the Hungry I against a wrongful termination suit by one exotic dancer. A jury found Tracey Buel, the activist more popularly known as Daisy Anarchy, was not an employee of the club. The more conservatively garbed Quadra is also lead class counsel in a wage-and-hour case dancers have brought against the Mitchell Brothers O’Farrell Theatre.

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