Beware the Contract Clause Loading US Workers With Debt
Graduating from PetSmart’s Grooming Academy early last year should have been a proud day for animal lover BreAnn Scally. It offered a path into full-time work with animals and brought her a step closer to her dream of opening her own animal sanctuary. It also propelled her into a protracted battle with the pet retailer and its debt collectors.
On its website and in job postings and tweets, PetSmart promoted the training as a perk of employment that provided close supervision working with 200 different dogs in its “FREE, paid Grooming Academy—an exclusive 4-week, 160-hour-long program that is valued up to $6,000!” But according to a lawsuit filed against PetSmart last week in California, Scally found the reality to be less than advertised.
After a week of mostly solo book work, learning how to distinguish a poodle puppy cut from a bichon bob, Scally says she moved onto the salon floor, clipping dogs’ nails, trimming their hair, dodging their bites, and assuaging their sometimes testy owners. The salon manager at the store in Salinas, California, was too busy taking care of dogs and other staff to give Scally the promised attention, her lawsuit claims. She says her training ended after three weeks instead of four and that her $15 hourly wage barely covered living expenses, forcing her to sometimes ask family for help buying food. “That was the biggest issue,” Scally says. “I don’t like to feel that I can’t take care of myself.”
A few months later, Scally told her manager she wanted to quit—but discovered her situation was still worse than she knew. As a condition of entering the Grooming Academy, she had signed a so-called training repayment agreement provision, or TRAP. It was a literal trap. If she left PetSmart within two years, she owed the company $5,000 for her training and $500 for grooming tools.
Scally’s class action lawsuit alleges that PetSmart’s Grooming Academy either violates a California law barring employers from charging employees for training unless it primarily benefits the worker, or breaches consumer and education law by operating as an unlicensed post-secondary school. PetSmart spokesperson Heather Heywood declined to comment on Scally’s suit but provided a statement claiming that the company’s “robust, multi-week” Grooming Academy provides more hands-on instruction than competing training courses. She said many employees value the program and sent a testimonial from a worker praising its rigor and the opportunity to receive training without up-front cost.
The dispute makes Scally one of the growing number of US workers finding themselves ensnared by TRAPs. Some hair salons, hospital chains, IT firms, and trucking companies require workers to sign the agreements as a condition of employment. The exact number of people subject to TRAPs remains unknown, but a new report by the Student Borrower Protection Center, a nonprofit that advocates for borrowers’ rights, estimates that three industries heavily reliant on the agreements, health care, trucking, and retail, employ one third of US workers.
via Wired https://www.wired.com
August 4, 2022 at 04:06AM