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Napa Jury Finds the French Laundry Not Guilty in Pregnancy Discrimination Trial [UPDATE]

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The plaintiff sought more than $1 million in damages

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The pregnancy discrimination case against Thomas Keller and the French Laundry has come to a conclusion following a trial in Napa County Superior Court. Following two days of deliberation by the jury, the conclusion is that there was “no wrongdoing” by the defendants.

The original lawsuit was filed in 2016 by Vanessa Scott-Allen, who alleged that she was prevented from working at The French Laundry after managers became aware of her pregnancy during a job transfer from Keller’s New York restaurant Per Se to the French Laundry in Yountville. Scott-Allen, who had worked for five years at Per Se, demanded a jury trial seeking more than $1 million in damages from the Thomas Keller Restaurant Group.

The lawsuit alleges that before Scott-Allen moved from New York with the intent to take a job at the French Laundry, she signed a “Notice of Resignation,” which management assured her was part of the transfer process. Scott-Allen alleged that the offer for the transfer to the French Laundry was then terminated — after she had moved to California. Emails from Minnillo and Keller’s head of human resources indicated that he had learned of Scott-Allen’s pregnancy, and was “confused how to proceed.” Minnillo then interviewed Scott-Allen for the job, a measure to protect the group from a discrimination lawsuit, though he admitted he did not plan to hire her in a video deposition.

The three-week-long trial revealed two opposing sides with very different accounts. Scott-Allen’s attorney Dustin Collier accused the Keller Group of “fraud, pregnancy discrimination, and gaslighting,” according to the SF Chronicle. Defense lawyer Mike Laurenson dismissed Scott-Allen’s allegations as a big miscommunication, saying that Minnillo “simply didn’t care for Ms. Scott-Allen and should have done a better job of communicating.”

The trial, personal by nature, also examined the character of defendant Minnillo, including emails in which he commented on the appearance of his female employees, and called a female colleague “a raving bitch.” Despite this, Keller attorney Laurenson advised jurors to ignore evidence that he deemed “unrelated,” declaring “Minnillo is a champion for women at the French Laundry.”

During the trial, Laurenson argued that Scott-Allen deserved only $13,000 in lost wages following her termination, though she sought at least $1 million for lost wages (past and future potential) and $770,000 in emotional damages.

The Thomas Keller Group issued a statement following the conclusion of the trail, in full below:

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. 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.

Update: The SF Chronicle reports that Scott-Allen’s attorneys plan to appeal the decision; they have not yet released a statement.

Eater has reached out to Scott-Allen’s legal team for comment.

The French Laundry

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