DENVER — A lawsuit was filed Tuesday on behalf of three women and one man who claim that a former franchise managing partner of Buffalo Exchange, a vintage clothing store whose Colorado locations shut down last summer, sexually assaulted and harassed his employees.
The complaint and demand for a jury trial, filed by Denver law firm Lowrey Parady Lebsack in Denver District Court, claims that Buffalo Exchange knew about and ignored accusations against Patrick Todd Colletti, who had operated three stores in Denver and Boulder.
Attorney Ben Lebsack said the complaint was about holding Buffalo Exchange accountable.
"Buffalo Exchange stood in solidarity with Mr. Colletti for over 20 years, encouraging and fostering an environment where Mr. Colletti could sexually assault and harass his employees without consequence," Lebsack said at a news conference.
Colletti has not been charged with a crime, according to court records. The Denver Police Department (DPD) said their sexual assault unit investigated the accusations and presented their findings to the Denver District Attorney's Office, and that the case was closed without an arrest. DPD said the case could be reopened if new evidence were made available.
The District Attorney's Office did not file charges because "we did not believe we could prove a case beyond a reasonable doubt to a jury," a spokesperson said.
Lebsack said the lack of charges doesn't affect the civil complaint. He said it was disappointing that Colletti was not charged but that criminal and civil cases have different standards of proof and processes.
Colletti was a franchise operator of three Buffalo Exchange stores in Colorado, located at 51 Broadway and 226 E. 13th Ave. in Denver, and 1813 Pearl St. in Boulder. The three stores closed July 28, 2020. Buffalo Exchange no longer has locations in Colorado.
> Video above: Abuse and harassment allegations lead to shutdown of vintage clothing stores
Buffalo Exchange, which is based in Tucson, Arizona, posted an open letter on its website on July 30, 2020, after dozens of employees and others came forward anonymously with accusations against Colletti.
"What happened to these victims is despicable and unacceptable," wrote Rebecca Block, Buffalo Exchange Corporate vice president, in the open letter. "Their experiences are devastating. Let me be clear: I believe the victims."
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit are Alyssa Detert, Alex Myers, Amanda Pruess and Clara Pruess, all of Denver. The defendants listed in the complaint are Colletti, Buffalo Exchange, Colletti's business partners -- Justin Van Houten, Victor Cortes and Katherine Plache -- and three franchise companies operated by Colletti and his partners.
The lawsuit requests class action status on behalf of all employees of the Buffalo Exchange locations in Colorado.
Accusations against Colletti date back at least a decade, according to the lawsuit.
According to the suit, Colletti converted the basement of the Broadway store into a bar where he hosted parties at which alcohol and cocaine were available, and that he did cocaine at the parties and while the store was open. He also opened a darkroom in the basement, the lawsuit claims.
"He also took naked photographs of his employees, their friends, and other people who found their way to the basement bar," according to the lawsuit. "He goaded these people into removing their clothes by offering drugs, alcohol or merchandise."
Colletti verbally abused his employees using slurs based on race, sexual orientation and body size, the lawsuit claims. He also physically abused employees by punching them in the arm, slapping them, jabbing them and twisting the skin on their arms, according to the suit.
"Despite receiving complaints and meeting about them, Buffalo Exchange did nothing to correct Mr. Colletti’s behavior," according to the lawsuit. "Defendants continued to empower Mr. Colletti with managerial responsibility over the Colorado stores and encourage his behavior by allowing him to operate an after-hours bar out of the basement of the Denver store."
The lawsuit claims that between 2015 and 2018, Colletti repeatedly sexually assaulted one of his female employees. Other female employees reported that he groped them and masturbated in front of them and that the Buffalo Exchange corporate office took no action on their complaints, the lawsuit says.
It was only in summer 2020, when dozens of employees and other victims began sharing their stories on Instagram that Buffalo Exchange shut down the Colorado stores and issued a statement, according to the suit.
Buffalo Exchange corporate said in a 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."
The defendants have not yet been served with the complaint but will be in the coming days, Lebseck said, who added that if a trial goes forward, it would likely happen next spring or summer.
EDITOR'S NOTE: An earlier version of this article inaccurately described a plaintiff. It has since been updated.
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