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Federal Discrimination Lawsuit Against Planned Parenthood Says Black Employee Was ‘Summarily Fired’ After Filing ‘Complaints of Racial Inequality’

Planned Parenthood

A Planned Parenthood center appears in a file photo.

A Black woman who was hired to be a “Director of Multicultural Brand Engagement” for Planned Parenthood in New York is suing her former employer for alleged racial discrimination.

In court papers, attorneys for Nicole Moore say their client worked for the reproductive rights organization between Jan. 13, 2020 and Nov. 2, 2021 before being “summarily fired” after raising myriad complaints of racial discrimination.

The federal lawsuit names the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Inc. and Planned Parenthood Action Fund, Inc. as defendants — though both are referred to simply as a collective “Planned Parenthood” as the document progresses.

The lawsuit accuses Planned Parenthood of boasting a “commitment to racial equality” while “punishing employees of color who dare to speak up, pretextually disciplining them and creating working conditions so intolerable that they are effectively forced to leave.”

The document goes on:

Moore, a Black woman, became Planned Parenthood’s Director of Multicultural Brand Engagement in January 2020. She quickly earned a reputation as a hard worker, a creative thinker, and a team player beloved by her peers – except by one supervisor who had been accused of racist behavior by multiple Black employees for years without repercussion. Moore observed that Black employees in her department were assigned more work but given fewer opportunities to lead and that Black-centered campaigns were deprioritized and under-resourced.

When Moore politely spoke up about the inequitable distribution of work, she was falsely accused of being negative, angry, difficult to work with, and chastised for her “tone” – complaints that had no basis in reality but comported with well-trafficked stereotypes about Black women. Planned Parenthood executives then proceeded to thwart Moore’s ideas, sabotage her projects, and subject her to unfounded disciplinary measures that were clearly intended to silence her complaints. The barrage of mistreatment caused Moore to suffer a panic attack so severe that she spent a day in the hospital. After complaining to HR that the disciplinary measures appeared to be retaliation for her complaints of racial inequality at the organization, she was summarily fired.

The plaintiff says she was “overlooked, overworked, over-scrutinized, tokenized, interrupted, dismissed, belittled, and abused by an openly hostile supervisor about whom many had complained about as racist.”

“Hers was the only department of one,” the lawsuit later alleges.

While she said she agrees with the defendant organization’s overall mission, her overall lawsuit also says that “the threat of relentless attacks from anti-abortion zealots and lawmakers does not absolve Planned Parenthood of the trauma it is perpetuating within its own organization.”

The lawsuit alleges six separate counts of discrimination and retaliation under 42 U.S.C. § 1981 and under the New York State Human Rights Law. It also alleges two additional “point[s] of law”: discrimination and retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Moore described herself as “[a]n experienced media manager, activist, and storyteller” who “brought 18 years of experience in public relations, community engagement, editorial, and marketing (including four years specifically in the reproductive justice field) to Planned Parenthood.”

The lawsuit specifically alleges the following chain of command: Moore reported to Senior Director of Brand Marketing Ilana Gamza, who is described in the paperwork as “a white Jewish woman.” Gamza reported to Vice President of Brand & Culture (“B&C”) Rachel Moreno, who is described in the lawsuit as “a white Latina woman: her mother is non-Latina white, and her father is white Cuban.” Moreno reported to Senior Vice President of Communications and Culture (“CNC”) Melanie Newman, and Newman reported to CEO and President Alexis McGill Johnson. Newman and McGill Johnson are described as Black.

Moreno, according to the lawsuit, was the primary problem.

“Moore quickly noticed that Moreno was inexplicably hostile toward her,” the lawsuit alleges. “Moore’s colleagues soon confirmed that Moreno’s animus toward Black women was known throughout the organization. Indeed, Moore learned that her predecessor, another Black woman, had left the organization specifically because of how Moreno had treated her.”

The lawsuit says Moreno “replied derisively” to the plaintiff’s comments about a “campaign focused on empowering and uplifting Black women” while “criticizing the campaign and bizarrely claiming that it was ‘irrelevant’ to Planned Parenthood’s mission.”

It further alleges that Moreno “loudly reprimanded Moore” in a hallway after Moore offered to line up a speaking engagement “at a Black Girls Rock convention, an organization she had a relationship with.”

Moore alleges that her complaints to Gamza about Moreno failed to ameliorate the issues. Gamza is said in the lawsuit to be supporting Moore, and Gamza has filed her own lawsuit against the organization.

Elsewhere, the lawsuit alleges that Planned Parenthood “deprioritized” Black observances “compared to others.” An example, according to the court document, is that “Planned Parenthood was unwilling to delegate sufficient resources to Black History Month . . . events and campaigns and that employees were instructed to prioritize other matters.”

The lawsuit goes on to allege that few projects at the organization — “two out of approximately twenty projects” — were assigned to Black individuals as “owners” (or leaders). When Moore raised questions about “the lack of Black staff representation as Owners of [the upcoming projects],” Moreno allegedly “berated” her “at length.”

In sum total, the lawsuit says Planned Parenthood only engaged in “performative, counterproductive” attempts at diversity and inclusion. It says the organization’s human resources “discussions prioritized and privileged white fragility”:

Planned Parenthood employees of color felt forced to constantly relive the trauma of being tokenized and having to cater to, and effectively perform for, their white peers. If these retreats were intended in any way to help Planned Parenthood’s employees of color, they did the opposite. They felt performative and uncomfortable and a waste of time for already-overworked staff. Worse, they did nothing to address the specific, concrete complaints that employees of color had registered over and over again without recourse.

At least one complaint was lodged to HR about these exercises and how uncomfortable they were to Black and brown employees, who felt uncomfortable, tokenized, and put on the spot, due to their race and ethnicity. HR again ignored the concerns and simply said the exercises were mandatory.

“These performative measures did nothing to advance racial equality within the organization,” the lawsuit alleges.

It also says the organization had a tendency to hire “executives’ white friends,” especially as consultants, “rather than engaging in an equitable hiring process.” When consultants of color were hired, they were allegedly paid substantially less, the lawsuit claims.

The remedy sought is a judgment “in amounts to be determined by the finder of fact” along with “emotional distress damages, compensatory damages, economic damages, punitive damages, attorney’s fees, and costs, and granting such other relief as may be just.”

An attorney for Planned Parenthood responded to the lawsuit when asked for comment by ABC News.

“Planned Parenthood Federation of America’s top priority for our dedicated staff is building a culture of diversity across the organization to fulfill our mission of reproductive health for all,” interim general counsel Susan Manning reportedly said. “Our staff is at the core of who we are and we work everyday to ensure a safe and welcoming environment. We strongly dispute the plaintiff’s allegations against the organization and categorically deny her claims of discrimination. Planned Parenthood will vigorously defend against this suit, and welcomes the opportunity to share the complete picture.”

A copy of the lawsuit is available here.

(Photo by Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images)

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Aaron Keller holds a juris doctor degree from the University of New Hampshire School of Law and a broadcast journalism degree from Syracuse University. He is a former anchor and executive producer for the Law&Crime Network and is now deputy editor-in-chief for the Law&Crime website. DISCLAIMER:  This website is for general informational purposes only. You should not rely on it for legal advice. Reading this site or interacting with the author via this site does not create an attorney-client relationship. This website is not a substitute for the advice of an attorney. Speak to a competent lawyer in your jurisdiction for legal advice and representation relevant to your situation.