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Celebrity chef faces pregnancy discrimination lawsuit

The celebrated chef Thomas Keller and his two restaurants, part of the Thomas Keller Restaurant Group, face a lawsuit from a former employee alleging sex discrimination and violation of pregnancy disability leave. The lawsuit, filed in Napa County Superior Court, seeks $5 million in damages for Vanessa Scott-Allen, who alleges that her pregnancy led to her ultimate termination.

Keller’s bi-coastal restaurants, Per Se in New York and the French Laundry in California, both played a role in Scott-Allen’s allegations. While she began work at the New York restaurant at 2011, after a January 2016 vacation to California, she expressed interest in moving across the country and transferring to the French Laundry. The lawsuit states that both restaurants were content with the transfer.

After the pregnancy was revealed

After completing a company internal transfer form and beginning the process to move with her husband out west and start her new job two months later, Scott-Allen learned she was pregnant. She subsequently informed her bosses of her pregnancy.

According to The Associated Press, the French Laundry General Manager Michael Minnillo emailed the head of human resources in early March, stating: “Apparently she is pregnant. She never mentioned this to me. I am confused how to proceed.” The lawsuit then alleges that Minnillo and the head of HR schemed to conduct an interview that resulted in the French Laundry finding her to not be the right fit for the restaurant.

Duped into quitting

Later in March, the company asked Scott-Allen to sign a “Notice of Resignation” letter, which management stated was standard in the transfer process. However, when she later met with the management team of the French Laundry, the managers asked detailed questions about her pregnancy, including her plans for time off and whether it would affect her job duties. The managers then told her they had no position for her.

Scott-Allen’s attorney states that the letter was a tactic to trick her into quitting. After over five years with the company, the resignation left her without a job or health insurance benefits in the early stages of pregnancy.

Unfortunately, the tactics alleged throughout this case are not entirely uncommon. Women across the country can face different treatment, demotions and even termination after revealing their pregnancy. Understand your rights, document discriminatory comments or actions and work with an attorney to hold your employer accountable.