Jury finds in favor of Thomas Keller, The French Laundry in discrimination case

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A Napa jury Wednesday found in favor of Yountville-based restaurant The French Laundry and the Thomas Keller Restaurant Group from claims of discrimination after a former employee of another Keller restaurant sued, alleging a job offer was rescinded when management found out she was pregnant.

The Jury found in favor of the defendants on Vanessa Scott-Allen’s claims of gender, sex, and pregnancy discrimination, intentional misrepresentation, concealment, and solicitation of an employee by misrepresentation, according to the redacted jury form. The jurors did not make findings on the claim of failure to prevent discrimination or whether the defendants acted with malice, oppression, or fraud or if they engaged in a conspiracy.

“Thomas Keller and The French Laundry are pleased the jury has reached the conclusion that there was no wrongdoing on our part in the pregnancy discrimination case brought by Vannessa Scott-Allen,” The French laundry wrote in an emailed statement. “We are and always have been supportive of women and their families. We are disappointed to see lawyers seeking an exorbitant sum for erroneous claims, and believe that these types of frivolous cases do a disservice to the very cause they are meant to further. This has been a trying ordeal for all of us and we are appreciative that it has come to the right conclusion. We wish to thank everyone who supported us in this process.”

Scott-Allen worked as a “captain,” the highest level service position at Per Se, another Keller property in New York, before visiting the French Laundry and completing a transfer request, agreeing to a start date there according to trial briefs filed by plaintiff’s lawyers.

Scott-Allen alleged the management team at the French Laundry found out about her pregnancy after they offered her the job and took steps to rescind the offer, including a second interview with management at the French Laundry intended to stymie the transfer.

The brief also said management deceived her into resigning from her well compensated position at Per Se, leaving her without a job or health insurance after moving cross country while pregnant.

The witnesses who testified during the trial included Thomas Keller himself as well as the manager of the French laundry Michael Minnillo, among others.

Sami Khadder of the Khadder Law Firm was part of the plaintiff’s team that represented Scott-Allen. Speaking prior to the verdict, Khadder described Minnillo as “the main culprit” in the alleged scheme to back out of the job offer Keller’s restaurant group made to Scott-Allen.

Khadder highlighted Minillo’s testimony as crucial alongside that of Julie Secviar, the company’s human resources director who Khadder described as complicit in a conspiracy to defraud his client.

Khadder noted that Keller was not involved in the underlying discrimination but said “The primary reason he is a defendant is because we alleged ... that he is central to an integrated enterprise between all of his entities.” He added: “He not only allowed this culture of discrimination to occur but he ratified this conduct toward Mrs. Scott-Allen.”

Khadder’s team used an expert witness to estimate Scott-Allen’s lost wages at around $1 million while an opposing witness for Keller’s group placed that number closer to $13,000.

Asked after the verdict in a text message if his side plans to appeal, Khadder said, “Absolutely.”

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