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Judge Calls for Retrial in Case of Alleged French Laundry Discrimination

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Thomas Keller’s restaurant group may be forced to return to court

Michelin Celebrates The 2016 Michelin Star Chef And Restaurant Recipients From New York City Photo by Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images for Michelin

The Thomas Keller Restaurant Group, cleared by a jury this summer in a case of alleged discrimination against a pregnant employee, could be forced to return to court. The Chronicle reports that Napa County Superior Court Judge Victoria Wood has ordered a retrial in the case — but the restaurant group will appeal Judge Wood’s decision, representatives tell the Chronicle.

“It is obvious to the court that plaintiff met her burden of proving it was more likely than not that she was subjected to employment discrimination on account of her pregnancy,” Wood wrote in a court order. She based her decision for a retrial on the plaintiff’s arguments that there wasn’t enough evidence to justify the verdict; that jurors violated instructions; and that there were problems with the defense’s arguments.

Plaintiff Vanessa Scott-Allen sued the Thomas Keller Restaurant group in 2016, alleging that she was denied a job at chef Thomas Keller’s famous Yountville restaurant, the French Laundry, based on her pregnancy. According to Scott-Allen, who had previously worked as a server at Keller’s New York restaurant, Per Se, she had been promised a position at the French Laundry in an informal transfer process. But after Scott-Allen moved to California and superiors learned that she was pregnant, they rescinded that offer, Scott-Allen and her lawyers claimed.

Judge Wood’s decision to retry the case was prompted in part by jury misconduct. Members of the jury reportedly discussed the case and the evidence before deliberations began, and ignored jury instructions to disregard the absence of Scott-Allen’s husband in the courtroom, mentioning it in deliberations.

Lawyers for the Thomas Keller restaurant group say they believe the jurors reached the correct decision in the first place, and are disappointed in Judge Wood’s ruling. Their appeal of Wood’s retrial ruling would reinstate the original not guilty verdict.

The French Laundry

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