By Brian Maass
DENVER (CBS4) – The Colorado Civil Rights Division has ruled that Shotgun Willie’s, an iconic Glendale strip club, sexually harassed a female employee and then fired her when she complained about the harassment.
The former employee and a second former worker suggest there is also evidence the club attempted to fabricate an official police report in an effort to smear the fired worker and create a reason for her termination.
“Something needs to happen to these people so that this stops,” said Heather Price.
Price worked at the club in 2014 and 2015 as a concierge, or VIP hostess. Price says she was not a dancer and did not remove her clothes.
Before she was fired on June 10, 2015, Price complained that a club manager, Randy Thornton, repeatedly asked her “If I was wearing panties and to prove it.”
“And he asked me that every time I worked,” she said.
Although Thornton denies the accusations, at least two other former club employees verify Price’s claims. Price and other employees say she wore skirts and cocktail dresses to work, and the questions were inappropriate. In a sworn statement, a former manager, Brian Barker, said that “inquiring whether underwear was being worn was not necessary and ‘inappropriate.'”
Price said she initially just brushed off the inquiries but later took her complaints to other managers. Soon after, the club fired Price saying “it was not working out.”
Price filed a complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Division, which spent a year investigating the case, gathering evidence and interviewing numerous current and former Shotgun Willie’s employees. The agency concluded Shotgun Willie’s violated Price’s rights.
“I conclude from our investigation that there is sufficient evidence to support one of the complainants claims of harassment based on her sex, and for discharge in retaliation for engaging in protected activity,” wrote Aubrey Elenis, CCRD Director.
The topless club maintains it fired Price due to ongoing friction between her and another employee, Desiree LaFebre.
Three weeks after the club fired Price in June of 2015, Glendale police were summoned to the club by manager Tyler Mintz to take a report from LaFebre on how she had been harassed and threatened by Price.
LaFebre has now recanted, saying club managers coerced her into filing the June 27 police report so they could create a paper trail impugning Price’s character.
“They let her go and had absolutely no reason so once they saw she wasn’t going to go, they went back to cover their footsteps,” LaFebre told CBS4. She said she never asked for the police to be called and that most of the report she was coerced into filing is false.
Mintz has denied he coerced LaFebre into filing the report. He told a state investigator he was unsure why the police report was filed three weeks after Heather Price was terminated.
LaFebre was asked about the police report, “None of this is true?”
She replied, “Not really, no. They were creating a cover story for why they fired her.”
She said as a single mother supporting three children, she felt she had little choice but to go along with the plan. She says club managers assured her that if she filled out the police report, she would have job security.
“The money was lucrative. I went along with it.”
In an interview with the Colorado Civil Rights Division, LaFebre told an investigator the same thing she told CBS4.
“She stated she was offered job security if she complained about (Price). Ms. LaFabre stated that she was coerced into filing a police complaint. She stated they asked her to file the report and she felt intimidated into filing it.”
LaFebre says five months after Price’s termination, club managers then pressed her into writing an email to a manager in which she complained of friction between herself and Heather Price. LaFebre says the Nov. 12, 2015 email was an additional attempt by the club to bolster their case against Price, who had filed a discrimination complaint against the club on Oct. 9, 2015.
“I am writing this letter to inform you of multiple incidence(sic) that occurred between Heather Price and myself,” reads the six paragraph email written a month after Heather Price began legal proceedings. “She was creating such a hostile work environment that it became impossible to focus well at the club.”
LaFebre said she did not want to write the email but club managers pressured her to create the document. To back up that contention, LaFebre showed CBS4 a text message exchange from earlier in the day on Nov. 12 between her and manager Michelle Poague. At 8:16 am, Poague asked LaFebre via text, “Can I get your statement today? You can email it to me… I need it today. Thanks.”
Later in the day, LaFebre texted Poague and wrote, “So sorry that took so long going thru a custody battle and have way too much on my plate.. Please read email and let me know how that sounds and or if I need to add anything.”
LaFebre sent the email late that afternoon.
Jeff Springer, an attorney for Shotgun Willie’s, contends Price and LaFebre are attempting to “shakedown” Shotgun Willie’s.
He says there is a “conspiracy” between Price, LaFebre and a third former employee of the club, Brian Barker, “to split the proceeds of Heather Price’s claim.”
“Quite simply, this appears to be an attempt at a shakedown by Ms. Price and her co-conspirators to gain a payoff through leveling of frivolous and groundless allegations.”
The attorney called the former employees “disgruntled.”
Springer contends the repeated questions to Price about wearing underwear were not sexual harassment, but an attempt to conform with club policy and Colorado liquor code.
However the Colorado Civil Rights Division ruling has cleared the way for Price to pursue a federal lawsuit against Shotgun Willie’s. She filed the federal lawsuit earlier this year.
“To finally stand up to them and show what they are doing means a great deal,” said Price. “Finally someone is doing something that a lot of people wouldn’t do because they are scared.”
View the Colorado Civil Rights Division’s findings on the Price/Shotgun Willie’s case.
Here are witness statements gathered by the Colorado Civil Rights Division.
Read the Glendale Police Department report which LaFebre now says she was coerced into.