The employee, former multicultural brand engagement director Nicole Moore, claims she and other women of color at the national Planned Parenthood offices were routinely disparaged, dismissed and given fewer opportunities than their white colleagues. When she complained about this treatment, she says, her managers retaliated against her in a campaign so severe it landed her in the emergency room with an anxiety attack.
The complaint contains anecdotes from multiple employees and contractors, hinting at tensions with racism within the organization that have bubbled under the surface for years.
Renee Bracey Sherman, a reproductive rights activist and former Planned Parenthood consultant who is mentioned in the suit, said she read the complaint and was not surprised by it.
“I’ve experienced and been told stories similar to those outlined in the complaint. It’s hardly my first experience and I doubt it will be my last,” she told The Daily Beast. “I’m so tired of being quiet about racism in [the reproductive rights movement] for the sake of saving Roe. We lost Roe. Now we need to deal with the white supremacy and exploitation underlying our movement.”
Moore said in a statement that she hoped the lawsuit would inspire “real change at Planned Parenthood so that the organization can fully live up to its promise to ‘Stand With Black Women’—starting with those who work there.”
In a statement, Planned Parenthood general counsel Susan Manning said the organization strongly disputed Moore’s allegations and “categorically den[ied] her claims of discrimination.” She said the group would “vigorously defend against this suit,” and welcomed the opportunity to share “the complete picture.”
“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,” she said. “Our staff is at the core of who we are and we work everyday to ensure a safe and welcoming environment.”
According to the complaint, Moore, a Black woman, was hired in January 2020 to help market the Planned Parenthood brand to communities of color. Almost immediately, she says, she sensed hostility from her manager, Vice President of Brand and Culture Rachel Moreno, whom the complaint describes as half Cuban. (Moreno did not respond to calls and emails seeking comment.)
In one instance, the complaint alleges, Moore responded to an email asking for ideas on how the organization could better engage with communities of color by offering to get the group’s president a speaking engagement at the Black Girls Rock convention. Twenty minutes later, it claims, Moreno accosted her in front of 10 other employees for taking too active of a role, telling her to “listen more” and “remain quiet and observe.”
Moore says that when she later suggested Planned Parenthood observe Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, Moreno rejected the idea and told her to stop “creating more work for [her]self.” When a white director suggested the same idea a few months later, she claims, Moreno praised it as a good idea and implemented it for the following year.
Moore is far from the only person to have alleged such discrimination. Her complaint names at least a dozen Planned Parenthood employees, former employees, or contractors who she says experienced unfair treatment or racism at the hands of the company, including being passed over for opportunities and not being paid fairly—or at all—for their work. According to the suit, one Black employee said the CEO of a Planned Parenthood affiliate asked her if she could pet her hair at a company event in 2017 or 2018. When she said no, she claims, she was chastised for hurting the CEO’s feelings. The same woman said that when she complained about a coworker who described himself as a “Black woman trapped in a white man’s body,” she was chided for playing the “race card.”
Multiple news outlets have also reported on instances of alleged racism at the organization, including an August 2020 article from BuzzFeed News entitled “Employees Are Calling Out Major Reproductive Rights Organizations For Racism And Hypocrisy.” BuzzFeed News published a follow-up article in October of that year about an internal audit the company had conducted, which found that employees of color experienced regular acts of racism but that there was “no meaningful consequence or accountability” when they reported it to HR.
The audit also noted that Black employees were “placed under greater scrutiny than white colleagues, both in terms of how Black staff are perceived at work, as well as the number of hours they work.” A consultant who presented the findings at an internal meeting said there were “lots of stories” of Black employees being expected to put in “extraordinary hours of work,” even amid personal crises, according to BuzzFeed.
The BuzzFeed article plays a key role in Moore’s lawsuit because of how she claims the company responded to it. At a meeting after the article was published, Moore claims, Senior Vice President Melanie Newman did not address the complaints of discrimination but instead issued a warning to whoever had leaked a recording of the presentation.
“We are going to find out who did this,” Moore claims Newman, a Black woman, said. (Newman declined to comment to The Daily Beast.)
The company also hosted several retreats focused on diversity and inclusion, which Moore says were “loathed” by employees of color. At one such retreat, she claims, a white employee was praised for her bravery when she admitted that she used to make assumptions about people’s race based on their writing. When an employee of color complained about the retreats to HR, the complaint claims, the department ignored the complaints and reiterated that participation was mandatory.
At the same time, relations between Moore and her superiors continued to break down. In one instance, when Moore had a disagreement with Newman over email, she claims, the vice president scolded her for embarrassing her in front of white staffers. Moreno, she claims, went so far as to ghost-write a critique of her and force her manager to send it in her own name, against the manager’s wishes.
In November 2020, Moreno put Moore on a performance improvement plan, citing a lack of communication and other issues that Moore claims “simply parroted stereotypes about Black women being aggressive, angry, and difficult to work with.” When Moore told HR that she felt the plan was a response to her complaining about racism in the organization, she says, an HR employee ignored her complaints and told her to “just do what’s in the PIP.”
Moore says her higher-ups continued to assign her more work than she was able to keep up with. In September 2021, the company issued her a final warning, saying she had “created chaos/confusion” and was “not seen as a team player.” (Moore says these claims are refuted by numerous witnesses and written communications.) The pressure resulted in Moore having an anxiety attack in early October 2021, according to the complaint. Less than two weeks later, she was fired. She says the company offered her one week of severance.
Moore’s complaint lists at least seven other women who she claims either left the company or took a leave of absence due to issues with race in the years since she was hired.
One former member of the organization, who is not involved in Moore’s suit but who resigned from her positions as a national storyteller and only Black member of a Planned Parenthood-affiliate board, told The Daily Beast on Wednesday that women of color leaving was a pattern.
The activist, who was heavily involved in PP from 2017 to 2020, said she and three of her Black superiors left due to feelings of tokenism and feeling so drained from being on the frontlines pushing Planned Parenthood’s narrative that it helped people of color without being fairly compensated, treated equitably, or given adequate rest in between events. At one Washington, D.C. event in April 2018, the former board member said her mentor passed out from exhaustion and went to the hospital. She quickly learned that it “was a toxic workplace for Black folks.”
"Black women leaders at the national level were the ones putting on the armor for battle to go out and get people to feel what it is like to need access to abortion care," she said. “They were not cared for or given resources. They were all frustrated, exhausted, and felt used."
Planned Parenthood’s controversies surrounding its treatment of employees of color has been an open secret in the reproductive justice movement, several activists told The Daily Beast. As one prominent member of a reproductive justice organization put it: “They’ve been such a mess for so long, who can keep up? I’m glad she is suing.”