In a lawsuit filed in Napa County on September 26 against The French Laundry, the Thomas Keller Restaurant Group, Thomas Keller, and his New York Restaurant Per Se, a woman named Vanessa Scott-Allen claims she was dropped from a promised post at the French Laundry, an act she alleges was due to discrimination against her because she was pregnant. The Napa Valley Register reported on the lawsuit, adding that restaurant spokesperson Samantha Shuman did not provide comment on the litigation.
As the Napa Valley Register recounts the lawsuit, on a trip to the Bay Area with her husband this January, Scott-Allen, who was at the time a Per Se server of five years, visited the French Laundry in Yountville. There, general manager Michael Minnillo, who is named as a defendant in the case, expressed interest in having her transfer to work at his restaurant, at least according to Scott-Allen. Following through, Scott-Allen emailed Per Se manager Antonio Begonja, who allegedly agreed to the swap. She also notified Begonja she was pregnant, according to the lawsuit.
Approved to start working on April 1 at the French Laundry, Scott-Allen and her husband began making travel preparations: Terminating their NY lease, buying a car, and shipping their things. On March 7, Scott-Allen says she was told to sign resignation documentation to make the change, and on March 8, she encountered Keller himself at Per Se, where she told him of the news, which she says he told her was "wonderful," even hugging her. The lawsuit claims that the hug, in the form of a photograph, eventually made its way onto the restaurant's daily bulletin, along with a note that read “Thank you Vanessa! May your warmth, grace and impact shine just as brightly at TFL as it has here.”
Scott-Allen's start date in Yountville was pushed back to April 4, and when she arrived there, transplanted to California, Minnillo, the general manager with whom she had originally spoken, was not there. Olivia Wallace, another manager, asked her questions about her pregnancy according to the lawsuit: When was her due date, how long would her leave be, and so forth. According to the suit, Wallace told Scott-Allen that she would have her training scheduled after Wallace and Minnillo spoke. That training never took place: Minnillo contacted Scott-Allen to tell her there were no positions available, though Scott-Alllen claims there were actually three open slots. After filing a complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, she got the go ahead to sue.
Scott-Allen is seeking an estimated $5 million in damages on charges including sex discrimination and violation of pregnancy disability leave law. A case management conference has been scheduled for March 7 and a jury trial is being demanded by Scott-Allen.