Thomas Keller and his fine dining restaurants Per Se and the French Laundry go to trial today for a pregnancy discrimination lawsuit — one where a former staffer alleges that she was pushed out of the company after she became pregnant. Vanessa Scott-Allen, who is asking for $5 million in damages, filed the suit in 2016, and on Monday, the trial starts in Napa County.
In January 2016, Scott-Allen was working at Per Se as a captain, making a six-figure salary after five years at the company, according to the Associated Press and the complaint for the case filed in the Superior Court of Napa. When she requested to transfer to the French Laundry, she alleges that the French Laundry’s general manager Michael Minnillo welcomed the move. Scott-Allen subsequently filled out a form to make the transfer, and in the process, she found out she was pregnant and notified the restaurants.
But that’s when things allegedly became discriminatory, the suit claims. Minnillo allegedly emailed human resources saying “I am confused how to proceed” about Scott-Allen’s pregnancy; the head of HR responded “Well, unfortunately not much we can do,” according to the court filings and the AP.
Then, the suit alleges, management told Scott-Allen that she had to sign a “Notice of Resignation” for her role at Per Se as standard procedure, leading to a loss of health insurance. And once she went to the French Laundry as originally planned, managers allegedly asked her about her pregnancy, such as questions about how much time she planned to take off. By April 2016, Minnillo told her there was no longer a position for her at the restaurant, the suit claims.
Keller, Minnillo, Per Se, and the French Laundry are named in the suit. Keller’s team would not comment on pending litigation, according to the AP.
The hospitality industry is notorious for being unfriendly toward mothers, and it’s an issue that impacts people at all levels of restaurants, from fast food to fine dining. In 2016, Chipotle was forced to pay a former staffer after a jury found that a manager discriminated against her for being pregnant. And last year, Lower East Side pancake destination Clinton St. Baking Co. was also accused of pregnancy discrimination in a lawsuit.
Stay tuned for more.