·  Legal News, Analysis, & Commentary

Lawsuits & Litigation

Trial Underway Involving Thomas Keller Pregnancy Discrimination Case

— June 5, 2019

Thomas Keller Restaurant Group is at the center of a lawsuit alleging pregnancy discrimination and wrongful termination.

Thomas Keller Restaurant Group recently found itself in hot water after a former server filed a pregnancy discrimination lawsuit against the company. According to the suit, Vanessa Scott-Allen was allegedly “denied a position at the French Laundry when management learned she was pregnant.” However, the company pushed back, claiming “pleasantries were misconstrued as a formal job offer — and the employee’s performance was the reason the offer was never made.”

Silhouette of a Waitress
Silhouette of a Waitress; image courtesy of mohamed_hassan via Pixabay,

Despite what the company said, Scott-Allen is seeking $5 million in damages for alleged sex discrimination and wrongful termination. Thomas Keller Restaurant Group is named as a defendant in the case, along with French Laundry general manager Michael Minnillo. The Thomas Keller Restaurant Group operates a variety of restaurants, including the French Laundry and Per Se.

Instead of opting to settle the case out of court, Scott-Allen has taken the case to trial in an effort to “raise awareness within the restaurant industry,” her lawyers said. Dustin Collier, one of her attorneys, said, “She thought they were family and they betrayed her.” What happened, though?

Well, according to the suit, Scott-Allen worked at Per Se in New York for five years. All the while, she steadily climbed the ranks from kitchen server to captain, “the highest server position.” Eventually, she began planning to move to the West Coast in order to “raise a family and to work at the French Laundry, Keller’s world-renowned fine-dining destination in Yountville.” She informed her manager of her plans, “signed the transfer request form and packed her bags.” Unfortunately, when she arrived in Napa Valley, “there wasn’t a job for her after all.” According to the suit, “just weeks earlier, managers at the French Laundry found out Scott-Allen was pregnant.”

Prior to moving to the West coast, Scott-Allen met with managers in an April 2016 interview. During the interview, the suit claims managers asked her “how the pregnancy might affect her job performance.” However, according to emails submitted into evidence, Minnillo, the hiring manager, already knew she was pregnant.

For example, in a March 1, 2016 email to the company’s head of human resources, Minnillo said, “Apparently she is pregnant. She never mentioned this to me. I am confused about how to proceed.” From there, Collier argues that “Minnillo and the human resources manager then devised a plan to give Scott-Allen the ‘sham interview’” that occurred in April 2016 in order “to protect themselves in the event of a pregnancy discrimination lawsuit.” During a video deposition, Minnillo even admitted the “interview was to go through the motions even though he already had no intention of hiring her.

To make matters worse, prior to moving out West, Scott-Allen’s managers at Per Se asked her to sign a resignation form and assured her it was routine practice. However, after looking through the personnel filed of more than 50 other employee’s who had transferred between the restaurants, Collier didn’t find evidence of other resignation forms. Additionally, “less than two weeks after telling Scott-Allen there was no position for her at the French Laundry, the restaurant hired a different captain who had no prior experience at Michelin-starred restaurants, but wasn’t pregnant,” Collier said.


Trial begins in Thomas Keller pregnancy discrimination lawsuit

Sex-discrimination trial begins against Thomas Keller and his 3-star Michelin restaurants

Join the conversation!