Health

You'd Think Falling 15 Feet at Work Would Entitle You to Workers' Comp

An exotic dancer who fractured her jaw and broke multiple teeth at XTC Cabaret had to crowdfund her medical bills thanks to her status as an independent contractor.
February 13, 2020, 8:00pm
strip club exotic dancer
Photo by Nina Marsiglio via Getty Images

Footage of dancer Genea Sky’s fall is horrific: She goes from working her way up a pole at XTC Cabaret in Dallas, Texas to tumbling a reported 15 feet to the stage, appearing to land squarely on her face. The accident left the dancer with serious injuries—and serious medical bills that she is wholly responsible for covering. Sky received an incredible amount of blowback for using GoFundMe to raise money for her medical expenses (a perversely normal thing to do) for reasons that surely have nothing to do with a fundamental disrespect for her line of work.

In the video, Sky recovers quickly and begins twerking, but the brutality of her landing is still jarring. On Sunday, multiple clips of the incident were circulating on Twitter, and Sky identified herself as the woman in the video. (Sky did not respond to an interview request for this story.) Sky shared via Instagram that she has already undergone jaw surgery after suffering from a jaw fracture, as well as broken teeth, a chin laceration that required stitches, and a sprained ankle.

She set up a GoFundMe to cover her medical expenses, which had exceeded its $20,000 fundraising goal by more than $18,000, as of Thursday. “I’m so thankful for all the positive messages I’ve been getting and all the love,” Sky said in a Twitter video on Sunday. “It really means a lot… That’s why I decided to post this video, just to say thank you and let you guys know that I am having a hard time but I am okay and I’m gonna be okay.”

Many people were quick to criticize Sky for crowdfunding her medical bills, scolding her for asking for help and instructing her to use her stripping money to cover her bills instead. But Sky and many other exotic dancers like her occupy a space designed to minimize benefits and maximize worker precarity: Sky is a contractor, not a full-time employee, which frees XTC Cabaret from having to provide her with health insurance or workers’ compensation, the former thanks to federal policy and the latter courtesy of state policy.

Eric Langan, CEO of the hospitality company that owns XTC Cabaret, confirmed Sky’s contractor status in an interview with TMZ. TMZ noted that while “the club is looking into helping Genea financially,” its owners ultimately did not claim legal or financial responsibility for her injuries. “The club's position—entertainers choose their own routine, and as a company, they exercise no control over a dancer's art form, so if they fall—it's on them,” per the TMZ report.

It is unknown whether or not Sky will try to compel Langan’s company or XTC Cabaret to provide her with compensation. But if she did go for legal recourse, she wouldn’t be the first exotic dancer to do so. In 2008, LeAndra Lewis was hit with a stray bullet while working in a strip club in Columbia, South Carolina; as a result, her uterus was damaged and she lost a kidney. In 2012, Lewis sued the nightclub’s parent company for workers' compensation and lost. But after Lewis appealed, the South Carolina Supreme Court ruled that she was an employee of the club and awarded her worker’s compensation in 2015. And in California, legislation designed to classify more workers as employees (with all the protection that entails) has already paved the way for strippers looking for benefits, according to the Intercept. With any luck, Sky could be able to follow a similar route and secure the medical-debt-eliminating bag she deserves.

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This article originally appeared on VICE US.