A Black former employee of Planned Parenthood is suing the organization for racial discrimination and wrongful termination, alleging a pattern of anti-Black racism and attempts to silence her for raising concerns about the treatment of Black employees, ultimately leading to her firing.
Filed in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York on Wednesday, the lawsuit from Nicole Moore, who worked as Planned Parenthood’s director of multicultural brand engagement from January 2020 to November 2021, describes egregious and specific allegations of mistreatment and racism against Black employees at the nation’s most prominent reproductive rights organization.
The lawsuit also references BuzzFeed News’ 2020 reporting on Black employees' allegations of racism and hypocrisy at reproductive rights organizations, including, prominently, Planned Parenthood. Leadership at Planned Parenthood reacted poorly to the optics of the backlash and not the content of the articles, Moore alleges, and failed to take substantial action.
“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 lawsuit says. “Instead of addressing the issues, Planned Parenthood has doubled down by 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.”
Susan Manning, Planned Parenthood Federation of America's interim general counsel, told BuzzFeed News that the organization denies Moore's allegations.
"Our staff is at the core of who we are and we work everyday to ensure a safe and welcoming environment," Manning said. "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."
Moore alleges that one of her then-supervisors, Rachel Moreno, the vice president of brand and culture, was “inexplicably hostile” toward her from the start. The lawsuit quotes a document of support from Moore’s other supervisor at the time, Ilana Gamza, saying Moreno treated Moore with “open contempt,” shut down her ideas, and put up obstacles to hinder her success. Gamza also tried to speak to Moreno about her treatment of Moore, but Moreno “refused to change her behavior,” the suit alleges.
Moore also claims that she later found out from a Black colleague, Nia Martin-Robinson, the director of Black leadership and engagement, that she too “experienced hostility from Moreno” and had observed that Moreno “generally treated Black women at the organization with open disdain.”
Moreno’s employment with Planned Parenthood ended in September 2021, according to her CV, which was posted online.
Gamza, who is Jewish, was terminated in November 2020. In June 2021, she sued Moreno, Planned Parenthood, and George Walker, the vice president of diversity, equity, and inclusion, alleging discrimination and wrongful termination. The case is ongoing in a Manhattan federal court, and the defendants’ motion to dismiss was struck down by a judge in June this year. BuzzFeed News has reached out to the attorneys representing the defendants in the Gamza case but did not immediately hear back.
According to Moore’s lawsuit, she was placed on a performance improvement plan after making several complaints about racism in the organization and was ultimately terminated in November 2021.
Moore also said she found out from other Black employees that when they had reported casual and overt racism from white colleagues and leadership over the years, they were chastised about speaking out, including being accused of “playing the race card.”
According to the lawsuit, Black women at Planned Parenthood said their expressions of anger or frustration were treated as threatening or inappropriate, while non-Black employees were allowed those expressions. They also described observing that Black employees were given greater workloads and held to a higher standard than their non-Black colleagues.
Their experiences line up with reporting from BuzzFeed News reporter Ema O’Connor in August 2020 that Black employees at Planned Parenthood faced microaggressions, tokenization, and racism at work, Moore said.
When the article was published, the organization publicly pledged to combat racism, but Moore said those promises rang hollow.
“Planned Parenthood had all the information it needed to stop mistreating and undermining its employees of color, devaluing Black culture and observances, and tolerating racist executives. And yet, the racism did not stop there,” she said.
In October 2020, when BuzzFeed News reported that an internal audit found Black employees experienced racism and anti-Blackness from their white colleagues, “Planned Parenthood leadership was upset for weeks,” frustrated at fielding questions from donors, Moore said. “The actual results [of the audit] did not seem to bother the organization — only the optics.”
Moore said in a statement that she was speaking out to hold Planned Parenthood accountable for its treatment of Black employees and “shed light on the fact that racism at Planned Parenthood directly impacts the access and quality of reproductive health care that Black women receive around the country.”
She also said she was worried that in filing her lawsuit, anti-abortion activists “might try to capitalize on my story to push their own harmful agenda.”
“The fact is that I cared deeply about abortion access before I worked at Planned Parenthood and I'm still fighting to advance reproductive justice, especially in Black and brown communities,” she said. “Particularly since the fall of Roe, we cannot seriously expect to win the battle for our rights to control our sexuality, our gender, our work, and our reproduction if Planned Parenthood continues to lean into white supremacy and anti-Blackness in the workplace.”
Correction: Nicole Moore was terminated from Planned Parenthood in November 2021. An earlier version of this post misstated the date.