Many people who’ve worked at the Liquor Store—a Southeast Portland bar and music venue—have a Cooper DuBois story.
For bartender Charlotte McCaslin, it was the multiple times she says DuBois, the bar’s top financier, would allegedly corner her in the bar and forcibly hug her—sometimes adding an unwanted kiss. According to Elizabeth Elder, who worked as a contractor booking shows for the Liquor Store, it was the time DuBois allegedly grabbed her butt as she was chatting with coworkers at a company party.
DuBois, the wealthy co-creator of a successful online gambling platform in Seattle, has poured money into the Liquor Store since owner Ray Morrone opened its doors on SE Belmont in 2015.
According to these women and several other former employees, DuBois’ hefty investment in the burgeoning music venue gave him a free pass to spend drunken weekends at the bar physically and verbally harassing staff and patrons. So now, after staff say years of repeated complaints about DuBois’ conduct to the bar’s owner went ignored, they’re suing.
“They pushed us to this point,” Elder told the Mercury. “[DuBois and Morrone] were given several opportunities to correct themselves, but no action was ever taken. The community has to know what’s going on.”
Elder and McCaslin filed individual lawsuits against DuBois, the Liquor Store, and parent company RNC Holdings LLC in April. Both women are requesting their cases be tried before a jury.
Elder's complaint accuses DuBois of battery, assault, and infliction of emotional distress for allegedly sexually assaulting her while she was working for the Liquor Store. She’s requested just $1 in damages.
“I want them to know that this isn’t about money,” said Elder. “This is about accountability.”
Elder said she was the target of DuBois’ sexual harassment for several years. Whenever she tried to bring it up with Morrone, Elder said she’d be met with nervous laughter and excuses.
“It was disheartening and really painful to be brushed aside,” she said.
Elder wanted to quit after DuBois allegedly grabbed her butt during the company's 2019 Fourth of July party, but she felt if she did, she’d be losing critical income from shows she booked for the rest of the year.
“It was a really brutal situation to be put in,” Elder said. “He was in charge of my livelihood—I couldn’t tell him to fuck off. I know I wasn’t the only one put in that position.”
“It was a really brutal situation to be put in. He was in charge of my livelihood—I couldn’t tell him to fuck off.”
Elder stopped going to most of the shows she had booked at the Liquor Store to avoid DuBois. But she did see him at the bar once, during the fall of 2019. That’s when he took her aside and allegedly apologized for his past conduct.
“He said, ‘I know I've been inappropriate with you, I'm sorry but I don't remember everything. Sometimes I drink too much,’” Elder recalled. “He wanted to hug it out, for everything to be okay. It was awful.”
DuBois has denied any and all claims of harassment against him. Neither DuBois nor his attorney, Haley Morrison, responded to the Mercury’s requests for an interview. However, in an email to Portland attorney Lake Perriguey, who is representing both women, Morrison wrote: “My clients maintain that they’re very surprised by these claims, and believe that in both instances, your clients’ allegations are without merit.”
Morrone has also not responded to the Mercury’s interview request.
Elder resigned in November. When she visited the bar in January to grab her last paycheck, she heard from former coworkers that DuBois was still harassing current members of the staff, including McCaslin. That's when she sought legal representation from Perriguey.
McCaslin’s complaint accuses DuBois of sexual harassment, gender discrimination, battery, infliction of emotional distress, and creating a work environment so hostile that McCaslin was forced to resign. According to McCaslin, the alleged abuse didn’t begin until she came out as transgender.
“After I transitioned, he doubled down on making me hug him and cornering me anytime he saw me… and making terrible, off-color comments about trans people,” McCaslin told the Mercury. “Most times [DuBois] was in the bar he did something inappropriate. After three years I started to think that that kind of behavior was kind of normal at bars.”
Only after McCaslin quit, in February 2020, did she realize that other bars didn’t tolerate anti-trans comments and blatant sexual harassment.
McCaslin said DuBois would regularly misgender her, calling her “bud” or “man” before allegedly grabbing her body. She wasn’t his only target. McCaslin said she frequently saw him acting sexually aggressive toward other patrons, in a way that, in any other bar, would have gotten him removed from the bar.
McCaslin said that she and several other Liquor Store employees reported her harassment to management multiple times. She was allegedly told by a top manager (who is still employed by the Liquor Store) that, even if they told DuBois to stop, he probably wouldn’t remember.
“We did what we could to keep it safe,” said McCaslin. “We tried to run a happy, well-functioning bar and every step of the way management would undermine us.”
McCaslin’s complaint requests $750,000 for severe emotional damages.
“I feel like I should have compensation for the way I was treated there, and for processing the trauma that’s continued afterwards,” said McCaslin.
Two bar managers quit during McCaslin’s tenure after their repeated requests to owner Morrone to keep DuBois out of the bar were ignored.
“Employees would come to me and say ‘Cooper was here last night and was wasted and wouldn’t leave me alone,’” said one of the former bar managers, who asked the Mercury to remain anonymous to protect her privacy. “When I’d tell [Morrone], I’d get the response, ‘That’s just the way he is, he paid for this bar, so he can do whatever he wants.’”
The bar manager, who quit in August 2019 after working at the Liquor Store since 2015, has her own stories of uncomfortable interactions with DuBois.
“We tried to run a happy, well-functioning bar and every step of the way management would undermine us.”
“I typically tried to avoid him at all costs,” she said. “But I came in after hours once to make a liquor order. When I got in, [DuBois] was there with his friends. When he saw me, he didn’t say ‘Hello’ or anything, he just asked, ‘Are you wearing a g-string?’ When I said no, he just went, ‘Okay never mind, I don’t want to talk to you then.’”
When she heard Elder and McCaslin were suing DuBois, she said her first reaction was, “Hell yeah.”
“It’s not just a social media post from a disgruntled employee that the owners can undermine,” she said. “A formal lawsuit takes it to the next level. It’s what this deserves.”
The lawsuit has received praise from a number of former employees familiar with DuBois’ conduct. One of those people is Ben Fuller, a DJ who worked for the Liquor Store for five years but quit in July 2019 after seeing his coworkers’ concerns about DuBois’ sexual harassment not taken seriously.
“I’m very proud of [Elder and McCaslin], as I know this has been a long and extremely stressful process,” wrote Fuller in an email to the Mercury. “It also makes me really sad because nobody, myself included, ever wanted to quit working there but the whole environment became so toxic with zero recourse we all were left no choice but to leave.”
The Liquor Store is now indefinitely shuttered due to the coronavirus. According to current workers, Morrone had started a coronavirus relief fund for furloughed staffers, and DuBois had promised to contribute a large sum. When that money didn’t appear, DuBois allegedly blamed it on McCaslin and Elder’s lawsuits, saying that the promised funding had to go toward legal fees.
“It’s just another reflection of [DuBois and Morrone’s] character,” said Elder. “They're manipulative people.”
Elder said she’s grateful to be going through this “intimidating and stressful” legal battle with McCaslin by her side.
“This is part of the healing process for us, for our community,” said Elder. “It’s important that bars and music spaces in Portland stay safe and those who threaten their safety to be held accountable. That’s all we’re doing.”