‘Culture of misogyny’ alleged in discrimination suit against chef

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Chef Thomas Keller is among the best of the best — with multiple three-star Michelin restaurants to his name, including the French Laundry in California.

However, a former employee of the chef’s New York restaurant, Per Se, claims that she was basically shuffled out of a job through a “bait and switch” offer of employment at the French Laundry as soon as her employers found out she was pregnant. Her attorney has referred to the whole situation as symptomatic of the “culture of misogyny” in the fine dining world — something that many female chefs have complained of publicly for years. Keller is named in the lawsuit not for any direct involvement in the discrimination but as the owner.

In essence, what happened is this:

  • The plaintiff was earning a six-figure salary as a “captain” or head waiter at the New York restaurant, Per Se.
  • While visiting the French Laundry on a California vacation, that restaurant’s general manager told her that he “would love” to have her once she expressed a desire to move to that area.
  • The plaintiff went back home and worked out the details of going from one restaurant to the other — which was to be handled as a lateral internal transfer.
  • She found out she was pregnant and mentioned it to her new boss shortly before the move.
  • Her new boss, along with the head of human resources emailed back and forth and basically connived a way to rescind the job after — after getting her to sign a “Notice of Resignation” for her position in New York under the pretext that it was just part of the usual ho-hum paperwork for the transfer request.

As soon as she got to California, the manager of the French Laundry peppered her with questions about her pregnancy and her intended leave. Then — within a week — he told her there was no position available for her and that he hadn’t really intended to hire her in the first place. Naturally, her old job wasn’t available either.

The plaintiff is asking for $5 million and damages due to the harm the whole thing has done to her career. It’s unfortunate that pregnancy discrimination still exists, given its ability to affect roughly half the workforce, but this plaintiff is smart: She’s getting legal help with her situation.