Dec 22


Buffalo barista alleges illegal firing

Plaintiff is suing Allentown coffee shop following her dismissal, precipitated by a fainting episode caused by what she said was a medical condition triggered by working long hours without a break.

Former barista Angel Krempa. Photo by Garrett Looker.

A trendy new coffee shop near the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus has been hit with a lawsuit alleging the owners illegally fired a barista after she fainted due to being overworked.

Angel Krempa, the barista, worked at Penny’s from June through August. Her lawsuit alleges that the owners of Penny’s Coffee Shop — located near the corner of Main and Allen streets — forced her to work eight to 12 hour shifts without breaks or overtime pay in violation of New York Labor Law.

The workload exacerbated a pre-existing medical condition that caused  her to pass out on the job, according to the complaint, which was filed Thursday in Erie County Supreme Court.

The overwork “aggravat[ed] their disability and result[ed] in Krempa’s exhaustion, dehydration, and fainting while at work, requiring a trip to the emergency room,” the lawsuit states.

For Krempa, the firing was a kind of déjà vu: A judge ruled in March that she’d been wrongfully fired from Starbucks for helping organize a union at a Depew store.

In an interview with Investigative Post, Krempa said she was diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome as a young teen-ager, which has caused her to experience digestive issues, cysts, a weakened immune system and fainting for years. She had her appendix removed as a result of the diagnosis.

At Penny’s, she said she had grown so dehydrated and exhausted that, after she fainted, she could not unclench her fists for hours.

“I could not for the life of me, until I was on IV at the hospital, unclench my fists,” she said. “My body was stuck.”

At Buffalo General Hospital, doctors told Krempa that she needed three days of rest to recover. After she left the hospital, Krempa said she got an email from Penny’s owner, Lasha Takalandze, urging her to take a week off.  Krempa said she relied on the pay she earned at Penny’s and told Takalandze she preferred to return to work sooner rather than later. But Takalandze was insistent.

“I think he was trying to figure out how he was going to properly get rid of me at that point,” Krempa said.

Sure enough: “I [got] an email saying, ‘Hope you’re well, we’re terminating you, good luck.’” she said. “That was it. That’s all I heard.”

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The lawsuit claims that Takalandze fired Krempa because of her fainting episode, in violation of state law. The suit states that’s what Takalandze told Krempa’s coworkers after he terminated her.

“In later communications to Krempa’s coworkers, the Employer claimed Krempa was being let go because they were unreliable and that they scared customers,” the suit claims. “Incredibly, the events ownership cited in support of these claims were the medical episodes Krempa experienced at work … the Employer unlawfully retaliated against Krempa for having a disability under the New York State Human Rights Law.”

The lawsuit seeks to recoup an unspecified amount of unpaid wages, as well as other damages and attorney fees. Labor attorney Michael Dolce is representing Krempa, as he did in the Starbucks case. Dolce said Thursday that he plans to meet with an attorney for Penny’s to attempt to settle the lawsuit out of court.

An attorney for Takalandze, B. Kevin Burke Jr., concurred.

“We hope and expect to have a mutually agreeable non-litigated resolution in the near future,” Burke said in an email Friday. “In the meantime, everyone has wished one another a happy and safe holiday weekend.”

Two questionable firings

Unlike other wrongful termination lawsuits, Krempa’s case has arisen out of a unique circumstance: She’d previously been fired from a coffee shop job illegally.

From February 2020 through April 2021, Krempa was a barista and shift supervisor at a Starbucks in Depew. After the store launched a union drive in mid-2020, Starbucks sent executives to the Transit Road store to work alongside and monitor employees. She was eventually fired for being late to a shift and wearing nose rings, though she suspected the real reason was her support for the union.

A judge agreed with her in March. Administrative Law Judge Michael Rosas ruled in a 218-page decision that she and other Buffalo-area employees were illegally fired. The case is currently under appeal. If ultimately successful, Starbucks would have to award Krempa back pay and offer her her job back.

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After a period of unemployment and stints at Spot Coffee and another restaurant, Krempa was back on the job hunt this summer when she discovered Penny’s. The cafe opened in July after receiving assistance from the University at Buffalo’s Startup and Innovation CoLab. University spokesperson John Della Contrada said the school’s program “provided feedback on its business planning as it considered launch of the business” but did not provide any legal or monetary support.

The owners — Takalandze and his wife Megi Endeladze — as well as the shop’s cozy, plant-filled dining room put Krempa at ease after a “rough” patch in her life.

“It was like a match made in heaven,” she said. “The inside of the store really matched my vibes. The owners, they seemed really kind and upfront.”

History of chronic illness

Due to her medical condition, Krempa said she’s been in the practice of explaining to bosses how her symptoms can affect her work. All, to date, have attempted to accommodate her, she said.

“When I started at Penny’s, I told them the same thing I tell every employer … ‘I have this health condition, just so you know. Are we still a good match?’” she said. “And they were like, ‘Yeah, we’re still gonna match.’”

Krempa said she realized quickly that she’d be much more than a barista at Penny’s. Hired prior to the cafe’s opening, she set up the point-of-sale system, assisted with ordering, helped the owners meet health department regulations, took customer orders, made sandwiches and coffee and cleaned the dining room.

After the shop opened, she said she implored Takalandze to hire more staff or cut back on hours, but he refused. He said he couldn’t find qualified employees. It all came to a head on August 17.

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“The day that I fainted on the floor, I was sick. I was overworked. I had been staying late pretty much every single day,” Krempa said. “I feel my heart racing, I’m feeling like I can’t breathe. Everything’s getting dizzy.”

She said she yelled for the owner to call an ambulance. A customer, a nurse who worked at the medical campus, was the one to call.

Krempa now works at a daycare center. She said she’s suing in part to reclaim her voice in the workplace and to be an example for others.

“That’s why I’m okay telling my story again, and again and again,” she said. “If one person is willing to speak up … [others] will eventually learn that they have been bogged down by somebody else, and their voice does have power behind it.”

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