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Pregnancy Discrimination Case Against Thomas Keller Restaurant Group and The French Laundry Settled

by Kerana Todorov
December 13, 2019

A former restaurant captain at Per Se has settled a pregnancy discrimination lawsuit against the Thomas Keller Restaurant Group and The French Laundry, according to court records.

The terms of the settlement were not disclosed. Michael David Bruno, an attorney for chef Thomas Keller and his restaurant group, on Thursday declined to comment on the out-of-court agreement, saying it is confidential. An attorney for plaintiff Vannessa Scott-Allen could not be reached to comment on the case. The settlement notice was filed in Napa County Superior Court on Dec. 9.

Scott-Allen sued The French Laundry in 2016 after she was denied a transfer from Per Se in New York City to the French Laundry in Yountville in the Napa Valley; she lost her health insurance in the process. Both Per Se and The French Laundry are part of Thomas Keller’s culinary empire.

Scott-Allen alleged during this summer’s four-week trial she was denied the transfer because she was pregnant. Keller and his associates denied the allegations in court testimony and legal briefs. The defendants in the lawsuit included Michael Minnillo, general manager at The French Laundry.

Scott-Allen said in court she understood her transfer had been approved in February 2016. She was asked to resign from Per Se before she and her husband left for California, an unusual request, according to court filings and court testimony. Scott-Allen then underwent a “sham” interview in Yountville instead of receiving her shift schedule at The French Laundry. Shortly thereafter, Minnillo told her there was no job at The French Laundry, according to court testimony.

A civil jury found in June in a 9-3 vote that Keller and his associates were not liable of pregnancy discrimination. The jury also ruled against Scott-Allen on other allegations. The Keller Group filed paperwork to be reimbursed nearly $150,000 in trial costs, according to court records.

Scott-Allen subsequently filed an appeal, demanding either that the court set aside the verdict or order a new trial, citing errors and alleged jury misconduct during the trial, according to court records.
In September, Napa County Superior Court Judge Victoria Wood, who had presided over the trial, agreed to grant a new trial, citing irregularities during the proceedings and deliberations.

“In weighing the credibility of the witnesses in this matter in light of the entire record, including reasonable inferences, it is obvious to the court that plaintiff met her burden of proving it was more likely than not that she was subjected to employment discrimination on account of her pregnancy. The jury clearly should have reached a different verdict and new trial must be granted.”

Scott-Allen now lives in Texas, according to court records.

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