Vanessa Scott-Allen, a former employee at the Thomas Keller Restaurant Group, claims that the company denied a job transfer and then terminated her because she was pregnant. The case went to trial Monday in Napa County Superior Court, more than two and a half years after the lawsuit was filed.
According to the lawsuit, Scott-Allen was hired at Per Se in New York in 2011 as a kitchen server. She received multiple promotions and was finally named captain or head waiter at the restaurant. In 2016, Scott-Allen wanted to move to the West Coast with her husband and told General Manager Michael Minnillo their plans. He said French Laundry, one of the restaurant group’s other restaurants, would love to have her.
Scott-Allen signed the transfer request for and packed for her move. In the meantime, she found out she was pregnant and informed her bosses. When she arrived in Napa Valley, she found out that she didn’t have a job after all.
“Apparently she is pregnant,” Minnillo wrote in a March 1, 2016, email to the company’s head of human resources. “She never mentioned this to me. I am confused how to proceed.”
“Well, unfortunately not much we can do,” Julie Secviar, head of human resources for the Thomas Keller Restaurant Group, replied in an email, cited in court filings. “What was committed verbally or in writing?”
The lawsuit alleges that Minnillo and Secviar came up with a plan to get rid of Scott-Allen by setting up a “sham interview” that would result in her not being the right fit for French Laundry.
Scott-Allen was asked to sign a “Notice of Resignation”, which management told her was a standard part of the transfer process. However, her attorneys said it was a way to trick her into quitting. Because of the resignation, Scott-Allen lost her health insurance and couldn’t see a doctor for her first-trimester checkups.
Scott-Allen is seeking $5 million in damages for wrongful termination discrimination. While she could have settled out of court, she wanted to go to trial to raise awareness within the restaurant industry.