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A former employee sues Planned Parenthood, claiming she faced months of racism

Missouri and American flags fly outside Planned Parenthood in June in St. Louis.
Jeff Roberson
/
AP
Missouri and American flags fly outside Planned Parenthood in June in St. Louis.

A former director at Planned Parenthood is suing the reproductive rights organization alleging she faced months of racial discrimination during her time there.

Nicole Moore, a Black woman, was the director of multicultural brand engagement from January 2020 to November 2021. She claims in a lawsuit filed in federal court Wednesday in New York that despite her positive contributions to the team, she was constantly humiliated in front of colleagues, given excessive workloads and punished for bringing attention to racism within the company.

"While Planned Parenthood has publicly boasted its commitment to racial equality, the organization – whose tagline is "Care. No matter what" – has blatantly ignored reports by dozens of its Black employees of systemic unequal hiring and promotion, more work for lower pay, overt hostility, and trafficking in stereotypes by leadership," the complaint says.

According to the complaint, Moore's team leader, a white Latina woman, constantly shut down her ideas about engaging with communities of color. For instance, when Moore suggested speaking at a convention for the Black Girls Rock organization, her boss yelled at her in front of about 10 other colleagues that she needed to "listen more" and "remain quiet and observe."

Moore also alleges she suggested Planned Parenthood begin recognizing Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, but was told she needed to stick with campaigns geared toward Black and Latinx communities. Though, the idea was praised months later when brought up by a white colleague, the complaint says.

Susan Manning, the interim general counsel for Planned Parenthood, wrote in an email to NPR that "we strongly dispute the plaintiff's allegations against the organization and categorically deny her claims of discrimination."

"Our staff is at the core of who we are and we work everyday to ensure a safe and welcoming environment," Manning wrote. "Planned Parenthood will vigorously defend against this suit, and welcomes the opportunity to share the complete picture."

Coworkers across the organization also knew and recognized the team leader's alleged pattern of racism, the complaint says. The company also faced similar allegations in 2020 when BuzzFeed reporter Ema O'Connor interviewed several Black employees.

The woman Moore directly reported to, Ilana Gamza, who also reported to the team leader, wrote a declaration of support for Moore in July, saying their boss "consistently positioned herself against Moore from the start, treating her with open contempt, treating her ideas with unfounded suspicion and creating a series of obstacles designed to hinder her success."

Gamza was fired from the company after their team leader asked Gamza to put Moore on a performance improvement plan and she refused, the complaint says. Gamza, a Jewish woman, has filed her own discrimination lawsuit against the company alleging antisemitism.

Moore's lawyers say she spoke with the human resources department and others within the company about what she was experiencing and was met with inaction and retaliation.

Planned Parenthood began threatening Moore with termination when she spoke up about being assigned campaigns for 11 national observances, when the norm was each director typically did one or two, according to the lawsuit.

Moore was also assigned all the observances geared toward Black people, including Black History Month, Black Maternal Week and Juneteenth.

"I'm not sure how this observance work was divided up in the first place and would like clarity about that," she said in correspondence to a colleague, according to the lawsuit. "I don't think that just because I'm Black I should be responsible for owning all of the Black observances. That is tokenizing."

About two weeks later, on Sep. 8, 2021, company executives met with her to give her a final written warning and "an exorbitant set of tasks" to complete in 30 days if she wanted to keep her job. Ultimately, she was fired in October after she wrote a rebuttal to the warning saying she felt she was being punished for pointing out biases, the lawsuit claims.

"Moore remains a stalwart defender of reproductive justice. But 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 complaint says.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Ayana Archie