Update: This story has been updated at 2:20 p.m. Nov. 19 with a response from Blush & Blu’s ownership.
Blush & Blu, Denver’s only lesbian bar, is being sued by three former employees who allege owner Jody Bouffard routinely failed to pay them minimum wage, stole tips during shifts and discriminated against one of the establishment’s only Black employees, among other issues alleged in the suit.
Plaintiffs Jordan Feltner, Mary Hannah Williams and Jessica Savage, who worked as bartenders, barbacks and security personnel for various stints between 2009 and 2020, filed suit against the bar and Bouffard last Friday. They are represented by Towards Justice, a nonprofit legal organization based in Denver.
Blush & Blu is one of about 20 lesbian bars remaining in the United States, a dying breed that is essential to maintaining and supporting queer people and culture, Bouffard told The Denver Post in June. According to the lawsuit, Bouffard “weaponized the so-called ‘safe space’ and the ‘family’ at Blush & Blu to create a culture of obligation where workers were required to accept mistreatment and brazen underpayment as a ‘service’ to the bar and broader queer community.”
In a statement emailed to The Denver Post on Friday, Bouffard said neither she nor the business had been served a lawsuit related to “these untrue and shocking allegations from three former off-and-on part-time staff.” The bar owner “never intentionally belittled anyone in the manner described or otherwise, nor withheld rightfully earned pay,” the statement said, adding, “This filing is an unfortunate retaliation against Bouffard and Blush & Blu for unrelated staffing decisions, and does not accurately represent the work environment at Blush & Blu.”
The plaintiffs allege they were routinely paid less than minimum wage and, in 2020, performed work they were never compensated for while Blush & Blu was closed because of the pandemic. When the bar moved to a tip pool model for bartenders and barbacks, the plaintiffs allege there was no predetermined basis for how employees were compensated. After one Pride weekend, the lawsuit alleges, Bouffard tipped out employees based on her subjective impression of how well each person performed.
Additionally, Bouffard is accused of repeatedly participating in tip share despite her managerial position, using tips for personal use, including to restock the bar with alcohol, and stealing tips.
“Plaintiffs observed that on nights Bouffard ‘tipped herself out,’ privately ‘counted tips,’ ‘made change,’ or ‘traded out low value bills,’ they almost always went home with far fewer tips than they earned on nights with a similar customer volume when Bouffard did not engage in these practices,” the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit also alleges that Bouffard discriminated against Savage, who is Black and Haitian-American, because of her race. Bouffard “persistently made derogatory, racialized comments to or in front of Savage,” such as references to having “jungle fever” when talking about an attraction to Black women, the lawsuit said. On at least one occasion, Bouffard accused Savage of “playing the race card,” the lawsuit said.
The suit also alleges that Bouffard treated Savage with increased scrutiny and discipline compared to white bartenders. According to the filing, Savage was not permitted to play hip-hop music while on shift and was publicly reprimanded when she did not take out the trash — two things she said white bartenders did not experience. Bouffard also did not schedule Savage during Friday night shifts, which are some of the busiest during the week. During Pride 2019, considered an all-hands-on-deck event, Savage did not receive any shifts to work, the lawsuit said.
Additionally, the lawsuit alleges that Savage was not permitted to visit Blush & Blu after her resignation and negative references from Bouffard prevented her from being hired at other queer establishments in Denver.
“Queer spaces aren’t immune from issues of racism and discrimination, and ignoring these issues doesn’t make them go away. I’m proud to speak out,” Savage said in a statement.
The lawsuit stated that some of these complaints about Blush & Blu had previously been filed with the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies’ Civil Rights Division. Bouffard “responded to each of the complaints lodged by Ms. Savage in her CCRD charge in full, with corroborating business documents, shift records, bank statements and payment records, social posts, photos, and specific eyewitness accounts,” Bouffard’s statement said. “Reviewing the evidence presented on behalf of Bouffard and Blush & Blu, and legal discussion of the charge, no standing of discrimination was recognized by CCRD. Now, Savage has apparently opted to try her case by public opinion.”