Thomas Keller Pregnancy Discrimination Lawsuit Goes to Trial

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A former server for the Thomas Keller Restaurant Group, Vanessa Scott-Allen, was denied a position at the French Laundry when management discovered her pregnancy. The company insists that they did not issue a formal job offer to Scott-Allen and that she misconstrued “pleasantries” with an official offer. They further claim that the reason she did not receive a job offer was her performance on the job.

Scott-Allen seeks $5 million in damages for wrongful termination and sex discrimination from the Thomas Keller Restaurant Group. The Group runs the French Laundry and Per Se, as well as other dining establishments. The plaintiff named Thomas Keller himself in the lawsuit alongside the General Manager of French Laundry, Michael Minnillo. The case went to trial in Napa County Superior Court close to three years after the plaintiff filed the original suit.

It is not uncommon for suits of this type to be settled outside of court, but Scott-Allen preferred to go to trial to raise awareness for issues that riddle the entire restaurant industry. Scott-Allen insists that she considered the company family and that they betrayed her by rescinding her job offer once her pregnancy was known.

Scott-Allen claims that she spent five years at New York’s Per Se, where she received regular promotions in the workplace from kitchen server to captain, the highest ranking server position at the company. She began planning a move to the West Coast to have more space, to raise a family, and to work at the French Laundry, Keller’s fine-dining destination in Yountville. She advised her manager of the move/transfer, signed the transfer request form, and packed her things. When she arrived in Napa Valley, she found that there was not a job for her after all. Only weeks had passed since managers at the French Laundry discovered that Scott-Allen was pregnant.

According to the lawsuit, managers asked Scott-Allen how her pregnancy may affect her job performance during an interview in April 2016. But the hiring manager, Minnillo, already knew that Scott-Allen was pregnant. Scott-Allen submitted proof of the prior knowledge during the case. Minnillo wrote in an email sent on March 1, 2016, to the company’s head of Human Resources that the pregnancy was never mentioned and that there was confusion regarding how to proceed. According to the suit, Minnillo and the HR manager came up with a plan to give Scott-Allen a “sham” interview to protect themselves and the company in case she decided to file a pregnancy discrimination lawsuit. During a video deposition, Minnillo stated that the interview was “to go through the motions” even though he had no intention of hiring Scott-Allen.

The company claims that Minnillo’s confusion was not due to what to do in the situation because of Scott-Allen’s pregnancy. They insist that Minnillo decided not to hire her based on her job performance as they had previously worked together at Per Se. The company insists that he was simply wondering if Scott-Allen’s pregnancy would prevent him from passing her over for the job. A little over a week after passing Scott-Allen over for the job insisting that there was no position for her at the French Laundry, the restaurant hired a different individual to fill the role of captain – one who had no prior experience at a Michelin-starred restaurant, but that was not pregnant.

If you have experienced pregnancy discrimination on the job or during the hiring process, the experienced employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP can help. Get in touch with the employment law office nearest you: San Diego, San Francisco, Sacramento, Santa Clara, Los Angeles, Riverside, Orange or Chicago.