Courtwatch: Woman files sex discrimination suit against The French Laundry
A woman has filed a $5 million sex discrimination suit against The French Laundry, alleging she was denied a job at the Napa Valley restaurant because she was pregnant, according to court records.
Vannessa Scott-Allen said a job offer at the Yountville award-winning restaurant evaporated after its general manager and others in the company learned she was expecting a child, according to the complaint.
Scott-Allen left a position as captain – or top waiter - at Per Se in New York City to transfer to the Yountville restaurant, according to the complaint filed Sept. 26 in Napa County Superior Court. Both The French Laundry and Per Se are in the Thomas Keller Restaurant Group.
A representative for The Thomas Keller Restaurant Group on Monday declined to comment on the lawsuit. “It is our policy not to comment on any pending or ongoing business litigation,” CFO David Ciabattari said in an email.
Scott-Allen alleges she was “discriminated and retaliated against, terminated, falsely promised and then denied a job “ after the defendants learned of her pregnancy and maternity leave plans, according to the court filing.
The defendants include Thomas Keller, Thomas Keller Restaurant Group, Michael Minnillo, The French Laundry’s general manager, Per Se and The French Laundry.
Scott-Allen is demanding $5 million in damages, punitive damages, attorney fees and other costs, according to the court filing.
The sequence of events began a trip to California in January, according to the complaint. During that trip, Scott-Allen visited to The French Laundry, where she observed the operations and service at the restaurant.
Michael Minnillo inquired about Scott-Allen’s potential interest in moving to California, saying “‘we would love to have you’ or words to that effect,’” according to the court filing.
Scott-Allen learned she was pregnant after she returned from her trip to the West Coast in February, according to the complaint.
She notified Per Se, where she had been a “top performing employee for nearly five years,” according to the lawsuit. Scott-Allen also told Per Se she wanted to explore the possibility to transfer to The French Laundry.
In a phone call in February, Minnillo told Scott-Allen she could transfer to the Napa Valley restaurant, according to the court filing. They agreed her first day would be April 1.
Scott-Allen alleges Minnillo learned that she was pregnant sometime between that phone call and her April 1 start date, according to the court filing.
With the understanding she could transfer to California, She and her husband terminated their lease in New York, bought a car, shipped their belongings and moved to California, according to the filing. Their rent was “considerably higher” than in New York.
In March, an assistant manager at Per Se asked Scott-Allen to sign a resignation document, saying it was “part of the transfer process,” according to the lawsuit. The next day, on March 8, she announced her transfer to Thomas Keller while the chef was visiting per Se. Keller hugged her and said “’that’s wonderful’ and ‘that really just made by day’ or words to that effect,” according to the complaint. Scott-Allen left Per Se three days later, on March 10.
Scott-Allen alleges she was “falsely represented that she needed to resign from her employment” at Per Se to transfer to The French Laundry, according to the lawsuit.
The company’s human resources director for Thomas Keller Restaurant Group told her to report to work April 4 instead of April 1 because Minnillo wanted her to meet with the “entire management team” because April 1 was not a good day for the restaurant, according to the complaint.
Minnillo was not there when she came to the restaurant April 4 even though she was told he would be present. Minnillo was visiting Per Se.
Scott-Allen instead met with a manager at The French Laundry who asked her about her maternity leave plans, according to the filing. The manager said Scott-Allen would receive her training schedule at The French Laundry after she spoke to Minnillo.
Minnillo then told the plaintiff her position was no longer available even though the restaurant had three job openings, according to the complaint.
Scott-Allen alleges fraud and deceit, sex discrimination, violation of pregnancy disability leave law, negligent misrepresentation, misrepresentation in violation of labor code and other allegations, according to the court filing.