Pet care giant PetSmart is facing a class action lawsuit over its ‘Grooming Academy’ training program, which at least one former pet groomer claims imposes a debt on employees that they are required to repay – even if they are fired.
BreAnn Scallywho previously worked for PetSmart as a pet groomer, filed a class action lawsuit in California on Thursday, alleging the company forces its interns to sign oppressive contracts that unfairly indebt workers.
“[PetSmart] is engaged in a scheme to entrap trainee groomers in their low-paying jobs by levying thousands of dollars in abusive and unenforceable debt against them,” legal organization Towards Justice said in a statement. Press release announcing the trial.
According to the complaint, PetSmart promises potential employees and future pet groomers “free and paid training where they will receive exclusive instruction from a dedicated teacher in a classroom setting along with a supervised, hands-on grooming experience.”
The reality of this training – which PetSmart would call its “Grooming Academy” – would be nowhere near as rosy as PetSmart would have you believe.
“Prospective groomers quickly find themselves grooming dogs for paying clients and may struggle to attract the attention of overworked trainers or salon managers,” the complaint states. “Despite its academic-sounding name, Grooming Academy does not provide employees with a recognized degree or credential. And once groomers graduate from the Grooming Academy, they are thrust into demanding and sometimes dangerous work, often working for little more than minimum wage.
If a PetSmart employee who has completed groomer training decides it’s not the job for them, the complaint alleges they are not free to leave.
“PetSmart requires all employees who enroll in the Grooming Academy to sign a Training Reimbursement Agreement (“TRAP”) clause,” the complaint states. “The TRAP requires PetSmart groomers to incur a $5,000 debt to PetSmart in exchange for training at the Grooming Academy. PetSmart cancels this debt only if the worker stays on the job for two years after starting their training, no matter how little they are paid or how badly they are treated.
That debt still stands even if an employee is terminated or terminated, the complaint states.
The complaint alleges that the Grooming Academy’s debt is illegal under California law.
As the complaint explains:
While employers can charge employees for training if that training is primarily for the employee’s personal benefit, labor law prohibits employers from charging employees for training that primarily benefits the employer. Meanwhile, consumer laws offer certain protections to borrowers who take out loans for personal or family purposes, and education laws require licensing for post-secondary education providers.
“If Grooming Academy is primarily for the benefit of PetSmart, then TRAP violates California labor law by requiring employees to pay for their own professional training,” the complaint argues. “And if Grooming Academy is primarily for the personal benefit of groomers, then it violates California Education and Consumer Law by indebting groomers under unfair and abusive circumstances to pay for an unlicensed post-secondary school.”
Either way, according to the lawsuit, the provision “benefits vulnerable employees and undermines California’s interest in the free and fair movement of workers.”
Plaintiff Scally says the groomer training contract provision was a major economic setback for her.
“PetSmart needs to find a better way for employees to want to become better groomers instead of trapping them with unfair debt,” Scally said in the press release. “I had improved my credit score, and now I have to start all over again. It took me back to square one.
Scally had worked as a bather and groomer at a PetSmart in Salinas, Calif., from February 2021 to September 2021.
The complaint seeks a jury trial as well as an injunction restraining PetSmart “from further disseminating its false statements about the Grooming Academy to the public, entering TRAPs as an unaccredited educational institution, engaging in debt collection activities related to the TRAP debt, and any other illegal activities related to the TRAP.
The case is brought by towards justicea nonprofit legal group that represents workers, as well as the nonprofit association Center for the Protection of Student Borrowers and legal jubileea California law firm specializing in debtor and consumer law.
PetSmart did not immediately respond to Law&Crime’s request for comment.
Read the lawsuit, below.
[Images via PetSmart.]
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