Louisiana news briefs
Ex-dancer sues strip club for unpaid wages
NEW ORLEANS — An exotic dancer is suing Bourbon Street strip club Rick’s Cabaret, claiming the business refused to pay wages and siphoned off tips to hundreds of its women performers.
Kelly Moncheski, a former dancer, filed a lawsuit Monday in federal court in New Orleans. She’s suing on behalf of other former employees at Rick’s Cabaret. The club, operated by RCI Entertainment of Louisiana, is located on Bourbon Street in the French Quarter.
The club’s owners couldn’t immediately be reached for comment Monday evening.
The lawsuit claims that Rick’s Cabaret improperly classified dancers as independent contractors — rather than employees — to cheat them out of pay, overtime wages and tips.
More than 300 women have worked as dancers without being paid minimum wages, the lawsuit says.
The dancers should be classified as tipped workers under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act and are therefore entitled to at least $2.13-per-hour and to pocket all of their tips, Moncheski’s lawyer, Alexandra Mora, wrote in the suit.
Instead, Rick’s Cabaret only paid the women in tips from customers for their semi-nude performances, the lawsuit claims, and dancers were forced to share tips with the owners.
When performing for customers in private rooms, the business charged the dancers “rent” for using the space, according to the lawsuit.
Meanwhile, the company dictated to the dancers how long they should work, what to wear, and how to groom themselves — or face being fired — all indications the dancers were employees, not independent contractors, the lawsuit says.
Volunteers will clean up Grand Isle beach
GRAND ISLE — A volunteer-driven effort to clean the beach at Grand Isle has been set for Nov. 23.
The Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program will sponsor the 8 a.m. to noon effort.
Participants will be provided with trash bags, gloves and a data sheet used to analyze what is found.
People interested in volunteering can contact Alma Robichaux at email@example.com or 985-447-0868.
Search for missing crewman halted
NEW ORLEANS — The Coast Guard has given up its search for a missing crewman.
The man went overboard in the Gulf of Mexico Saturday about 60 miles southwest of Port Fourchon from the Dustin Danos, operated by Raceland-based Gulf Offshore Logistics.
The Coast Guard says it stopped looking Monday. Its crews searched for 52 hours and covered more than 2,733 square miles.
Multiple crews from Coast Guard Air Station New Orleans, the Coast Guard Aviation Training Center in Mobile, Ala., and a commercial helicopter crew were involved, alongside the Coast Guard cutter Pelican and the vessel Dustin Danos.
Investigator’s trial postponed in DWI bribery scheme
LAFAYETTE — A federal judge postponed the scheduled Dec. 16 trial of a Lafayette private investigator accused of helping organize a scheme to bribe employees of the 15th Judicial District Attorney’s Office for favorable treatment in DWI cases.
U.S. District Judge Elizabeth Foote pushed back Robert Williamson’s trial in the federal investigation to March 10, citing concerns about Williamson’s health and the need for his defense attorney to have more time to prepare.
Williamson’s attorney, Thomas Damico, requested the trial delay earlier this month.
Five others have pleaded guilty in the investigation.
Teachers retirement fund earns $1B
BATON ROUGE — Hefty investment earnings increased the Teachers Retirement System of Louisiana’s assets more than $1 billion during the past fiscal year ending June 30.
TRSL Executive Director Maureen Westgard said the investment return was 13.8 percent.
System assets jumped from $13.5 billion to $14.66 billion, according to the latest valuation report by TRSL’s actuary Shelley Johnson of Foster & Foster Actuaries.
On those earnings, TRSL paid $1.6 billion in annual benefits to some 70,000 retirees.
From retirees’ perspective, Westgard said there is a potential for a small cost-of-living adjustment because of the $219.7 million deposited in what is called an “experience account.”
She said it would likely be similar to the 1.5 percent of Social Security based on the Consumer Price Index.
American Legion Post 47 officer arrested
HAMMOND — The finance officer of American Legion Post 47 in Ponchatoula has been arrested for the alleged misappropriation of about $70,000 in legion funds.
Randall Baldini, 62, of Ponchatoula, turned himself into police Friday.
A jail official said Baldini was booked with one count of felony theft and posted a $10,000 bond.
Ponchatoula Police Chief Bry Laryssion said Baldini has been cooperating with investigators.
Extra pay for Allen school employees
OBERLIN — Allen Parish school employees will receive an extra paycheck in December.
The School Board voted Monday to use more than $1.4 million in local sales tax revenues and gaming compact funds from the Coushatta Tribe to fund salary supplements for its 678 employees.
As approved, degreed personnel - including classroom teachers and administrators - will receive a $2,000 one-time supplement.
All other employees, including support personnel, will receive $1,140.
School board members and substitutes will not get the supplement.
Finance director Wilfred Bourne says the supplements will be paid in the form of a 13th check to be distributed by Dec. 20.
anti-begging law is unconstitutional
NEW ORLEANS — The Louisiana Supreme Court has upheld a district judge’s ruling that the New Orleans city ordinance outlawing begging is unconstitutional.
The law has been used to arrest more than 1,000 panhandlers in the past three years.
The Supreme Court denied the state’s request last week that it intervene in the case, offering no written reasons or analysis of the ordinance’s constitutionality.
Orleans Parish Criminal District Court Judge Arthur Hunter scrapped the charges against a 24-year-old panhandler in May, blasting the city for continuing to enforce a law first declared faulty in 1984.
In decades since, thousands of people have been arrested for violating the law, but nothing has been done to fix it.
The case stems from the May 2012 stop by two New Orleans police officers of Joseph Thornton, 24, who was begging for money alongside a road. They discovered he had a bag of cocaine hidden in his mouth.
Thornton was booked on the begging charge, a misdemeanor, along with a felony charge for the drugs.
In May, Hunter dismissed the drug charge, finding the evidence for it had been obtained during an illegal search.
In 1984, a federal court found the law in New Orleans was “overbroad.”
City law, at the time, barred anyone from standing on the street to hitchhike, sell goods or beg for money. The federal court banned the city from enforcing the law and suggested that it be rewritten to restrict begging only when it could be shown to pose a real threat to public safety.
A decade later, in 1995, the council updated the begging ordinance, but expanded the law’s reach. Restrictions against advertising for employment and soliciting charitable donations were added.
The ordinance was again challenged and ended up before the state Supreme Court in 2009.
Before the court ruled, the city attorney promised it would no longer be enforced until it was changed.
The high court therefore deemed the issue moot, yet the law was never altered.
Between 2010 and May 2013, nearly 1,300 people were charged under the law.
The American Civil Liberties Union attacked a similar ordinance in Slidell earlier this year, and the Slidell City Council quickly passed a new, narrower law to replace it.