Former Planned Parenthood employee sues organization, alleging racism and mistreatment of Black women

The plaintiff claims the organization retaliated against her for speaking out.

October 19, 2022, 3:44 PM

A former Planned Parenthood employee is suing the organization, alleging the reproductive healthcare nonprofit retaliated against her and ultimately fired her for speaking out against its treatment of Black women.

Plaintiff Nicole Moore, the former director for multicultural engagement at Planned Parenthood based at the national headquarters in Manhattan, claims in the complaint filed on Wednesday that Planned Parenthood has perpetuated a culture of racism where Black women within the organization are discriminated against through unequal work distribution and opportunities for promotions.

"[Planned Parenthood] 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," according to a copy of the complaint obtained by ABC News.

Moore, who says she served in the role from Jan. 13, 2020, through Nov. 2, 2021, also claims that "Black-centered campaigns were deprioritized and under-resourced."

PHOTO: Nicole Moore, former director of multicultural engagement at Planned Parenthood, is suing the organization, alleging mistreatment of Black women.
Nicole Moore, former director of multicultural engagement at Planned Parenthood, is suing the organization, alleging mistreatment of Black women.
Courtesy Nicole Moore

The plaintiff alleges that when she "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,'" and was then placed on a performance improvement plan.

According to the complaint, the allegations that Planned Parenthood detailed in its decision to place Moore on the plan included "a lack of communication," and failure "to build effective relationships" – complaints that Moore claims are "demonstrable lies." Moore claims that she was also "reprimanded for raising concerns about racial inequality at Planned Parenthood" and that those complaints were cited among the reasons for being placed on the plan.

Planned Parenthood disputed Moore's allegations in a statement provided on Wednesday to 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," Susan Manning, the interim general counsel for the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, 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."

During the time she was placed on the performance improvement plan, Moore claims that she "continued to be assigned significantly higher workloads than her white peers" and that her complaints regarding the "exorbitant" amount of work were dismissed.

"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 complaint alleges. "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."

Planned Parenthood is a leading provider of reproductive healthcare in the U.S. and is at the forefront of the fight for abortion rights, filing several lawsuits against states that have passed restrictions to abortion access after the Supreme Court overturned Roe. v. Wade in June.

PHOTO: In this April 16, 2021, file photo, Planned Parenthood signage is seen in the Financial District neighborhood of New York.
In this April 16, 2021, file photo, Planned Parenthood signage is seen in the Financial District neighborhood of New York.
Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images, FILE

Moore was employed at Planned Parenthood at the height of the national and global social justice movement that erupted after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. As part of her role as director for multicultural engagement, she was involved in the organization's social justice efforts amid the movement, she says in the complaint.

In the wake of Floyd's death, Planned Parenthood expressed solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, vowed to empower Black organizations and Black leaders and fight for the bodily autonomy of Black people.

"If Black people don't have the right to bodily autonomy to live their daily lives — or protest the violence against their lives — without the fear of violence or murder, we can never achieve justice, let alone reproductive freedom. Freedom from violence is reproductive justice," the organization said in a statement on Twitter on June 1, 2020.

The statement added, "Access to health care and freedom from violence are reproductive justice issues. We're proud to stand in solidarity with our partners in the Reproductive Justice movement, but we must also acknowledge our own racist history."

In a statement provided to ABC News, Moore said that "racism at Planned Parenthood directly impacts the access and quality of reproductive health care that Black women receive around the country."

"If staffers are dealing with anti-Blackness, retaliation, and disregard in the workplace, how can we then expect this organization to possibly deliver compassionate care to Black women who are seeking their services? I hope that my story inspires real change at Planned Parenthood," she added.

Over the past two years, Planned Parenthood's treatment of Black employees has come under scrutiny and some of those incidents were referenced in Moore's complaint.

In June 2020, Laura McQuade, the president of Planned Parenthood of Greater New York, was ousted from her position after a barrage of complaints about alleged abusive behavior and discriminatory treatment of Black employees. She told the New York Times the claims were false but said, "this is not the time to refute them."

The board of directors at Planned Parenthood of Greater New York acknowledged that the organization needs to confront structural racism in a statement, but also expressed support for McQuade, saying in a statement that they "fully support" her "work and leadership." PPGNY vowed to ensure that employees reflect the community they serve and work to "[dismantle] white dominant organizational norms and practices and committing to equity standards in all organizational practices," among other things.

Planned Parenthood CEO Alexis McGill Johnson, who was serving in an acting role at the time, urged the PPGNY board of directors to "hold themselves accountable."

"We know we cannot address structural racism or white supremacy in this country without addressing our own," McGill Johnson wrote in a statement on Twitter on June 19, 2020 – days before McQuade's departure.

Citing McQuade's ousting in the complaint, Moore alleges that her own complaints about her treatment were being dismissed by leadership at the time.

Following McQuade's departure, Planned Parenthood commissioned the Anti-Oppression Resource and Training Alliance (AORTA) to conduct interviews with current and former Black employees, the results of which were detailed in an internal report.

Citing an Oct. 2020 Buzzfeed News report in the complaint, which details the claims against Planned Parenthood from Black employees that were expressed in the internal audit, Moore claims that "the actual results did not seem to bother the organization – only the optics."

Moore claims that leadership in her office retaliated against her for speaking out about her own experience.

According to the Buzzfeed report, McGill Johnson, who is Black, acknowledged during a meeting about the audit that the organization is facing an internal "reckoning" regarding its treatment of its employees.

McGill Johnson vowed to make changes during the meeting, according to the report, and in an Aug. 2020 tweet responding to the audit, she wrote, "Shifting culture requires building the competencies and skill sets to create belonging. We need to be intentional, actionable, data-driven, and build internal and public accountability."

"For years, many Black employees have spoken out privately about racism at Planned Parenthood to no avail," Moore's attorney Susan Crumiller said in a statement provided to ABC News. "We are proud of Nicole for her courage in coming forward publicly and honored to help her hold the organization accountable."

Moore was ultimately terminated on Nov. 2, 2021, according to the complaint.

Moore alleges that her termination led to emotional distress and caused her health problems, including hair loss due to alopecia.

Although an amount is not specified in the complaint, Moore is seeking "emotional distress damages, compensatory damages, economic damages, punitive damages, attorney's fees, and costs."

The lawsuit names the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Inc. and Planned Parenthood Action Fund – the political arm of the organization – as defendants.

ABC News' Alex Hosenball contributed to this report.

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