A former employee of Vena’s Fizz House, the popular Portland craft soda and cocktail bar, is accusing owners Steve and Johanna Corman of retaliation for whistleblowing in a lawsuit filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court.

Nichole Bailey, who worked for the couple in various capacities from April 2014 through April 2016, alleges she was fired after demanding overtime for working in excess of 40-hour weeks and complaining that Steve Corman was illegally sharing in tips from the wait staff’s tip pool.

Reached at Vena’s on Friday night, Johanna Corman said she had not seen the suit or known that it was being filed.

“This is all news to me,” Corman said. “We have been going back and forth with her attorney.”

“We obviously have a 100 percent different side of the story,” she said. “I thought we had been working on a resolution.”

Bailey’s attorney, Rebecca Webber of Skelton Taintor & Abbott in Auburn, said the former bar and social media manager was taken off the schedule the day after she emailed the Cormans to ask about tip pooling and being owed back wages for overtime hours.

This was the third time she had introduced the topic, according to the suit, and at a staff meeting two days before, the Cormans had been given a packet of information about Maine laws on overtime and tips.

The suit includes the text of a message Steve Corman allegedly sent to Bailey, telling her to “Think about your role and whether you want to be part of Vena’s and whether we are a good match for each other. Reading the email you sent, it doesn’t seem as we are.”

In early May, according to the suit, the Cormans offered Bailey work as an independent contractor or consultant, doing the same work she had been doing before, as well as bar shifts. Bailey questioned the legality of that offer because she did not have a separate consulting company. She was given until May 20 to accept and chose not to take the offer.

Webber said the Department of Labor ordered the Cormans to pay her 90 hours of overtime, and she received that money, but that her pay rate on her last check was cut by $1.25 an hour. As bar manager, Webber said, Bailey had been making $15 an hour.

Bailey is seeking compensation for the loss of a job she liked. Webber said she’s had to scramble to find other work and has been working multiple jobs since then but would have preferred to keep the job at Vena’s Fizz House.

“It’s more that she lost her job because she spoke up on behalf of those two issues,” Webber said. “They just have not even been willing to deal with this, with the impact they have had on her.”

Mary Pols can be contacted at 791-6456 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: MaryPols

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