The Denver Post

Civil lawsuit filed against Buffalo Exchange

- By Kieran Nicholson Kieran Nicholson: 303-954-1822, knicholson@denverpost.com or @kierannich­olson

Four former employees of Buffalo Exchange filed a civil lawsuit in Denver District Court Tuesday claiming the former co-owner and cofounder of Buffalo Exchange Colorado, Todd Colletti, harassed and sexually assaulted them and that the parent company did nothing to protect or aid employees after multiple complaints were made over several years.

Attorney Ben Lebsack, who represents the four plaintiffs, said that employees who were harassed and assaulted brought complaints to the company, and its owners, from 2012 through 2020 but the company refused to take any action.

“The Buffalo Exchange aided and abetted” Colletti, a former managing partner, in an ongoing pattern of sexual harassment and assaults, Lebsack said Tuesday at a Zoom news conference.

Four plaintiffs — Alyssa Detert, Alex Myers, Amanda Pruess and Clara Pruess — filed the lawsuit, claiming

Colletti and the company through a lack of action created “a hostile work environmen­t based on sex … Mr. Colletti verbally and physically harassed his employees, even sexually assaulting several of them.”

Complaints to the company, owned by Kerstin Block, were ignored or forwarded to Colletti to handle, according to the suit, “creating a hostile work environmen­t for all employees.”

“He pinched me, poked me, ridiculed me, shamed me and gaslit me,” said Amanda Pruess, at the news conference. “He called me fat when I had gained some weight, ugly when I wasn’t wearing makeup, stupid when I made a mistake. He saved the compliment­s for when I was drunk. He assaulted me twice and then he acted like nothing happened. When I acted awkward the next day, he labeled me a prude. That’s when I realized how often he assaulted other people, too. I realized that this was the norm.”

Pruess worked for Buffalo Exchange from 2010 to 2016, mostly at the Denver location on South Broadway. Colletti also operated a store in Boulder.

At the Denver location, a bar was used in the basement of the building where Colletti plied woman who worked for him with alcohol and drugs, Lebsack said. Assaults allegedly took place at his home as well.

Colletti would take advantage of and exploit employees during emotionall­y vulnerable moments, the lawsuit claims.

“Whatever it was that you needed Todd would give it to you … and it was free,” said Megan Parker. “Except that it wasn’t free and by the time you realized that you were paying for it, it was too late.”

Parker spoke at the news conference but is not a plaintiff in the lawsuit because her claims have gone past a statute of limitation­s.

In December, the Denver District Attorney’s Office announced that it would not file criminal charges after a Denver Police Department investigat­ion against Colletti on allegation­s of sexual assault, drug and underage alcohol use, fraud and theft. The FBI aided police in the criminal investigat­ion after allegation­s came forward in the summer of 2020 on an Instagram account as the parent company cut ties with the Colorado stores.

“Regarding Mr. Colletti … we refused this case because we did not believe we could prove it beyond a reasonable doubt to a jury,” said Carolyn Tyler, a DA’s spokeswoma­n, in December.

On Tuesday, the corporate office of Buffalo Exchange released the following statement. “We cannot comment on a legal filing that we have not seen. The Colorado franchise stores were owned by Justin Van Houten, Kathy Plache and other investors. We did not have control over their business operations, hiring, employee documentat­ion, or terminatio­ns, including access to employee records or paperwork such as exit interviews. We were not the employer of any of the individual­s asserting claims.”

Van Houten, Plache and other individual­s and companies are also named in the suit as respondent­s. Buffalo Exchange operates a chain of retail used clothing stores across the country. Colletti could not be reached Tuesday for comment.

The lawsuit, based on damages, seeks economic restitutio­n and compensati­on for the four employees, to make up for harms and injuries like mental pain and suffering, emotional distress, humiliatio­n and impairment of quality of life.

Dozens of former employees told their stories on the Instagram account, many anonymousl­y. Some have chosen not to go public, according to a news release on the filing of the civil lawsuit.

At the news conference, Detert addressed Colletti: “I hope you’re feeling the immense pain survivors have poured into their accounts of what you did to them. Your legacy is that of a predator.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA