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Why did The French Laundry face pregnancy discrimination claims?

Prominent chef Thomas Keller of the famed Michelin starred restaurants The French Laundry and Per Se was recently released from allegations of pregnancy discrimination from former employee Vanessa Scott-Allen.

Scott-Allen was seeking $5 million in damages, claiming that she lost her position due to her pregnancy. She had intended to transfer from New York’s Per Se, where she worked as head server (captain), to California’s The French Laundry. She completed the company’s internal transfer form, agreed to start in April, moved across the country and informed the restaurant group of her pregnancy. However, Scott-Allen was never hired for the new position. Was she pushed out because of her pregnancy?

What aspects of the case could signal discrimination?

Employers cannot fire, withhold promotion, demote or refuse to hire a woman based on her pregnancy status or intent to become pregnant. In this case, Scott-Allen claimed that she was not offered the position at The French Laundry because her employer knew of her pregnancy.

She argued that her job interview was only conducted to prevent a lawsuit, but that the restaurant group was not actually considering her for the position. Scott-Allen would have been the first person in the captain role at The French Laundry to be pregnant.

Why was this case not considered discrimination?

The French Laundry does not have to hire Scott-Allen because she is pregnant. However, they cannot withhold employment because she is pregnant.

Management reported that Scott-Allen was not offered the position due to past work performance. They stated that she was not promised the job in California. Poor communication led to Scott-Allen’s confusion and belief that she was being offered the job.

What happens next?

Scott-Allen’s legal team plans on appealing the decision. They continue to assert that she suffered from pregnancy discrimination and that she deserves damages from the Thomas Keller Restaurant Group.

What can pregnant employees learn from this case?

It can be difficult for an employee to prove pregnancy discrimination. She must be able to show that her employer’s actions, and her stunted career, is directly tied to her pregnancy.

If a woman suspects discrimination, she should carefully document all communication with her employer. She should also maintain a thorough record of when her employer made certain decisions versus when she became pregnant and reported her pregnancy to the company.

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