A superior court judge in Napa County has ordered a retrial in the employee pregnancy discrimination lawsuit against one of the most sought-after chefs who owns two of the most popular fine dining restaurants in the country. The defendant had been cleared last month of wrongdoing, but the victory may be short-lived. The plaintiff, who alleges pregnancy discrimination, gender discrimination and sexual harassment are rampant in the restaurant industry, will now have another chance to plead her case – in the same court with a new jury.
As The San Francisco Chronicle reported, the trial judge agreed to plaintiff’s request for retrial, finding credence in her arguments that:
- There wasn’t enough evidence to justify the verdict;
- There was juror misconduct by the jury and defense counsel;
- Some of the defense witness testimony and evidence lacked credibility.
To prevail in the case, the plaintiff needed to show it was more likely than not she was discriminated against by her employer because of her pregnancy. The judge ruled plaintiff had met that proof burden.
Allegations of Pregnancy Discrimination by Plaintiff
Plaintiff was employed for five years at defendant’s New York restaurant, Per Se, when she put in – and was approved for – a job transfer to the company’s Yountville, CA restaurant, French Laundry. However, she was prevented from starting her new job. During the transfer, in a stack of paperwork she was to complete was a “Notice of Resignation.” She asked about it and was told it was all standard and part of the process – she had to resign from one restaurant to begin working at the other.
But meanwhile, emails exchanged back-and-forth between managers show that human resources for the restaurant company learned about the pregnancy, and one stated he was “confused about how to proceed.” They ended up continuing with the formal interview/transfer process – plaintiff even moved from New York to California – but the manager conceded in a video deposition he had no intention to actually hire her at that point. Continuing with the interview process at that point was, she said, a means to protect the company from a pregnancy discrimination lawsuit.
Soon after she had moved, her offer of employment at the California location was rescinded, and she could not be rehired at the New York location, as she’d already resigned.
Her employment attorney accused the defense not just of pregnancy discrimination, but gas-lighting and fraud.
The employment law defense attorney, meanwhile, argued the matter was one of misunderstanding; the manager simply didn’t like the plaintiff and did a poor job of communicating this. Other emails from the manager, in which he spoke badly about other female colleagues, in some cases commenting on their appearance, became subject to further examination. The defense argued this was unrelated to the case.
Plaintiff sought at least $1 million in damages.
Upon receiving the initial verdict, the defense called the claim “frivolous” and accused the plaintiff’s employment attorneys of seeking an exorbitant sum.
The celebrated chef himself did not have direct involvement in the interactions, but rather is named as a defendant due to the fact he owns and controls both restaurants.
The company has said it will appeal the order for a new trial.
Contact the employment attorneys at Nassiri Law Group, practicing in Orange County, Riverside and Los Angeles. Call 714-937-2020.
Retrial ordered in bias case against Thomas Keller restaurant group, Sept. 12, 2019, Associated Press