A federal judge ruled Thursday that an exotic dancer at a nightclub on The Block, Baltimore's strip-club district, worked as an employee, not an independent contractor, and should be paid back wages.

Unique S. Butler of Owings Mills, who worked for tips at Norma Jean's from 2007 until August 2012 when she said she was fired, filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in February against the club and its owner, PP&G Inc., accusing the club of refusing to pay wages.

Butler, who used the stage name Dior, said she worked seven-hour shifts up to seven nights a week and had to pay a $45 fee to the club each day out of tips and an additional $20 if she was late, the complaint said.

The club's owners argued in court documents that all its dancers chose to be classified as independent contractors, so Butler was not entitled to wages. The owners said dancers work on their own schedules, not in shifts, and keep all tips after paying a fee for stage upkeep, use of a locker and DJ equipment.

The owners of Norma Jean's could not be reached Friday.

Senior U.S. District Judge William M. Nickerson determined that Butler is entitled to wages and damages under federal law. She was an employee, the judge said, in part because the club controls the flow of customers, requires no specialized skills and relies on exotic dancers for the business.

The amount of damages will be decided at a trial. No trial date has been set.

Lorraine.mirabella@baltsun.com