Former Buffalo Exchange employees file a class action lawsuit over alleged pattern of sexual assault
Plaintiffs say local branch owner Todd Colletti sexually assaulted and harassed them, and that corporate and regional owners aided and abetted his abuse.
In a Zoom conference call on Tuesday, a group of people sat in separate rooms across Colorado, silently holding up signs that read “@buffalo.in.the.room.” The message was a reference to the Instagram account which last summer published dozens of allegations of sexual harassment and assault at the hands of Buffalo Exchange Colorado owner and cofounder Todd Colletti. The signs were made to show support for four former employees who announced at yesterday’s conference that they are pursuing a class action lawsuit against Colletti and the company they say fostered an environment that enabled his abuse.
A formal complaint issued Tuesday morning alleges that Colletti assaulted and harassed former Buffalo Exchange Colorado employees, that Buffalo Exchange aided and abetted Colletti’s actions, and that both corporate and regional owners knew of his behavior and even witnessed it at parties in the Broadway location’s basement, where they allowed him to operate a bar. The complaint also alleged that Buffalo Exchange co-owners Rebecca Block and Kerstin Block are childhood friends of Colletti, and that they opted to protect him over their employees.
“I am both comforted and devastated to know I am in great company,” said Amanda Pruess, one of the plaintiffs. “I’ve met some of the most inspiring, creative, beautiful and powerful people through Buffalo Exchange. To everyone that has been impacted by that man, it was not your fault. I am sorry this happened to you and that it took so long. We all deserve better.”
Last summer, after @buffalo.in.the.room blew up online, Buffalo Exchange LTD shut down all of its Colorado branches and released an open letter in support of the employees who’d spoken out. The case led to a months-long investigation by Denver police. In December of 2020, Westword reported that the Denver District Attorney would not pursue charges against Colletti, saying that the allegations couldn’t be proven beyond a reasonable doubt to a jury. Westword also reported that a number of survivors declined to speak to the police because they worried they wouldn’t be taken seriously, or that they didn’t trust law enforcement following reports of police violence.
Buffalo Exchange is a national resale chain known for hip vintage clothes and an inclusive atmosphere. The company had locations in Boulder and Denver, which were locally owned and operated by Colletti, Justin van Houten, Victor Cortes and Katherine Plach. The local franchises operated for decades until last July, when the Instagram account publicized decades of complaints of sexual assault, verbal and sexual harassment, battery, racist and homophobic comments, and wild parties in the South Broadway store’s basement bar, where Colletti allegedly supplied underaged employees with alcohol and cocaine. Accounts also said Colletti made female employees and their friends strip for photos, which he posted around the bar; and that he had a habit of hiring young women, earning their trust, and preying upon them during particularly vulnerable times in their lives.
Amanda Pruess is joined as a plaintiff by her sister Clara Pruess, as well as Alex Myers and Alyssa Detert.
Clara Pruess, who says Colletti sexually harassed and assaulted her when she worked at Buffalo Exchange, says she watched him groom many fellow employees — mostly young women and people within the LGBTQ+ community. She said his behavior was enabled by a “system of silence.”
“Employees had a saying: Nothing good happens in the basement after midnight. Referring to being assaulted by Todd,” Pruess said. “This is no one’s fault except for Todd and the people in power that enabled him.”
The lawsuit lists several instances in which employees reported Colletti via email, phone, or written exit interview. The lawsuit also says Buffalo Exchange forwarded some of the complaints to Colletti. Notably, the report details one instance in which an employee reported Colletti for sexually assaulting a coworker. The report goes on to say that in January of 2016, Buffalo Exchange LTD and local ownership, then operating under the title “Forgotten Works, L.L.C.,” revised their franchise agreement, and required that the S Broadway store post a note that read, in part:
“EACH AND EVERY EMPLOYEE OF THE BUFFALO EXCHANGE STORE, DENVER, COLORADO, IS HEREBY GIVEN NOTICE THAT THEIR EMPLOYER IS FORGOTTEN WORKS, L.L.C. … HOWEVER, BUFFALO EXCHANGE, LTD. IS NOT YOUR EMPLOYER.”
Amanda Pruess says Colletti sexually assaulted her after hearing she’d broken up with her boyfriend. Clara reported her sister’s assault to corporate, but the sisters say the person she spoke to told her there was nothing Buffalo Exchange could do.
“They were well aware of the dozens of complaints that went to them about Todd from ex-employees,” she said. “They know exactly what they said back to those ex-employees, how they claimed that there was nothing they could do, despite having their name on the building within which girls were getting abused on a weekly basis.”
When asked to respond to the claims in the lawsuit, Buffalo Exchange corporate offered this 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 plaintiffs are now seeking relief for emotional, economic, and physical damages and legal costs. If the court approves the case’s class status, other members of the “class” — Buffalo Exchange employees who “were subject to a hostile work environment based on sex at Buffalo Exchange’s Colorado stores in the six months preceding December 23, 2015” — may join the case and seek relief.
Denverite has reached out to Colletti’s attorney, and to the attorney representing Buffalo Exchange’s local operators. Neither immediately responded to our request for comment.