North Carolina court allows case against dance instructors

RALEIGH, N.C. — Dance instructors who glided off to a competing dance studio can still be sued by the employer who wrangled the foreign-born pair's permission to work in the United States, North Carolina's highest court said.

The state Supreme Court decided last week that breach of contract and other claims can continue against dance instructors Ranko Bogosavac of Bosnia and Darinka Divljak of Serbia, but the Charlotte studio that hired them away is largely out of the woods.

"We look forward to resolving all the claims against the dancers as well," their attorney, Renner St. John, said Wednesday.

Happy Dance Inc. studio owner Michael Krawiec, who filed the lawsuit, said he's not yet discussed with his lawyer how to proceed after the ruling agreeing with a lower court. That court dismissed claims including contract interference and unfair and deceptive practices against Charlotte's Metropolitan Ballroom and dance studio owners Jim and Monette Manly.

U.S. dance studios face a chronic search for instructors and have filled the gap by importing foreign workers from Eastern Europe and other countries where learning to waltz or tango is part of growing up.

Most dance instructors enter the U.S. under temporary work visas issued to persons who show "extraordinary ability" in the sciences, art or athletics. The government issued 15,918 of these O-1 visas in 2016 — 50 percent more than five years previously.

The lawsuit by Happy Dance owner Krawiec and his wife, Jennifer, contends they invested time and money into securing work visas for Bogosavac and Divljak on the condition each would work exclusively for their Fred Astaire dance studio near Winston-Salem. The Krawiecs and Happy Dance had paid airfare, visa costs, and room and board, their lawsuit said. In return the dancers could earn incentives boosting their $1,700 monthly wages, about three times the monthly average wage in Serbia and Bosnia.

But within a few months of their 2011 deal, the dance partners from the former Yugoslavia were working at Krawiec's competitor, the lawsuit said, taking with them marketing plans and trade secrets like original ideas for dance productions.

Lawyers for Happy Dance never really explained what was so original and secret in what the dancers knew, the Supreme Court decided. Other claims lacked sufficient detail and there wasn't sufficient proof the Charlotte studio knew the dancers had exclusive employment agreements with Krawiec's company, the court said.

"Plaintiffs argue that they adequately stated a claim for unjust enrichment by alleging that the Metropolitan defendants accepted the benefit of employing the dancers without obtaining new visas," Justice Barbara Jackson wrote for the court majority. "We disagree with plaintiffs' argument."

Divljak and Bogosavac had no listed phone numbers and could not be reached for comment.

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Follow Emery P. Dalesio on Twitter at http://twitter.com/emerydalesio . His work can be found at https://apnews.com/search/emery%20dalesio

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