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Injured exotic dancer was employee, not independent contractor

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An exotic dancer injured in a nightclub shooting was an employee of the club, rather than an independent contractor, and should receive workers compensation benefits, the South Carolina Supreme Court ruled Wednesday.

Additionally, the state high court ordered the South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Commission to reconsider its award of $75 per week in workers comp disability benefits for the woman because it said the commission failed to show how it reached that figure.

LeAndra Lewis of Charlotte, North Carolina, worked as an exotic dancer in clubs throughout North Carolina and South Carolina in 2008 when she was shot while dancing at the Boom Boom Room Studio 54 in Columbia, South Carolina, operated by L.B. Dynasty Inc. Ms. Lewis performed at various clubs, and the night of the shooting, she showed up at the Boom Boom Room, presented identification to prove her age, paid a required “tip-out” fee and was allowed to perform. She did not fill out an employee application or sign an employment agreement, court records in LeAndra Lewis vs. L.B. Dynasty Inc. show.

While she was performing, an altercation broke out in the club and Ms. Lewis was struck in the abdomen by a stray bullet. She sustained injuries to her intestines, liver, pancreas, kidney and uterus and was left with extensive scarring that rendered her unemployable as an exotic dancer, according to court documents.

Ms. Lewis applied for workers comp temporary total disability and medical benefits from the South Carolina Uninsured Employers’ Fund because the nightclub did not have comp insurance. A single commissioner and the appellate panel of the state’s workers comp commission denied Ms. Lewis’ claim, saying she was not an employee but an independent contractor. A South Carolina appeals court agreed in a decision handed down in September 2012.

The South Carolina Supreme Court, in a 3-1 ruling in 2015, reversed the appeals court decision, finding Ms. Lewis was an employee because the club controlled and directed her work and had the ability to fire her. The high court remanded the case to the appeals court to set a compensation rate for Ms. Lewis’ injuries.

The appeals court affirmed the workers comp commission’s previous determination that Ms. Lewis would have been entitled to compensation of $75 per week if it were determined she was an employee of the club. The state high court reversed that compensation determination.

“The commission summarily concluded Lewis was entitled to an award of $75 per week, without indicating what total it assigned to her average weekly wages, or how it reached that figure,” the ruling said. “Moreover, the commission’s finding that Lewis presented ‘no evidence whatsoever’ as to the amount of money she earned is plainly wrong.”

The high court remanded the case to the workers compensation commission for a de novo hearing to determine the amount of benefits to which Lewis is entitled.

Representatives of L.B. Dynasty were not immediately available to comment.