PetSmart Sue Over ‘Grooming Academy’ Debt

Image of a PetSmart storefront (via PetSmart)

Image via PetSmart.

Pet care giant PetSmart faces a class action lawsuit over its “Grooming Academy” training program, which at least one former pet groomer says saddles employees with a debt they are required to repay — even if they get fired.

BreAnn Scally, who previously worked for PetSmart as a pet groomer, filed a class action lawsuit in California on Thursday alleging that the company forces its trainees to sign oppressive contracts that unfairly burden workers with debt.

“[PetSmart] is engaged in a scheme to trap trainee pet groomers in their low-wage jobs by levying thousands of dollars in abusive and unenforceable debts against them,” legal organization Towards Justice said in a press release announcing the lawsuit.

According to the complaint, PetSmart promises potential employees and would-be pet groomers “free, paid training where they will receive exclusive instruction from a dedicated teacher in a classroom setting as well as a supervised, hands-on grooming experience.”

The reality of that training — which PetSmart reportedly calls its “Grooming Academy” — is allegedly nowhere near as rosy as PetSmart would make it seem.

“Prospective groomers quickly find themselves grooming dogs for paying customers and may have to struggle for attention from overextended trainers or salon managers,” the complaint says. “Despite its academic-sounding name, Grooming Academy does not provide employees with a recognized degree or credentialing. And once groomers complete Grooming Academy, they are thrust into a demanding and sometimes dangerous job, often working for barely above minimum wage.”

If a PetSmart employee who has gone through the groomer training decides it isn’t the job for them, the complaint alleges, they are not free to leave.

“PetSmart requires that all employees who enroll in Grooming Academy sign a Training Repayment Agreement Provision (‘TRAP’),” the complaint says. “The TRAP requires PetSmart groomers to take on $5,000 of debt to PetSmart in exchange for Grooming Academy training. PetSmart forgives that debt only if the worker stays at their job for two years after they begin training, no matter how little they are paid or how poorly they are treated.”

That debt still holds even if an employee is fired or laid off, the complaint says.

The complaint alleges that the Grooming Academy 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, employment law prohibits employers from charging employees for training that primarily benefits the employer. Meanwhile, consumer laws provide certain protections for borrowers who take out loans for personal or family use, and education laws require licensing for providers of post-secondary education.

“If Grooming Academy is primarily for PetSmart’s benefit, then the TRAP violates California employment law by requiring employees to pay for their own job training,” the complaint argues. “And if Grooming Academy is primarily for the groomers’ personal benefit, then it violates California education and consumer law by saddling groomers with debt under unfair and abusive circumstances in order to pay for an unlicensed post-secondary school.”

Either way, the lawsuit says, the provision “takes advantage of vulnerable employees and undermines California’s interest in the free and fair movement of workers.”

Plaintiff Scally says that the groomer training contract provision has been a major economic setback for her.

“PetSmart needs to come up with 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 gotten my credit score up, and now I have to start all over again. It’s brought me back down to square one.”

Scally had worked as a bather and groomer at a PetSmart in Salinas, California, from February 2021 to September 2021.

The complaint demands a jury trial as well as an injunction barring PetSmart “from further disseminating its false statements about Grooming Academy to the public, from entering into TRAPs as an unapproved educational institution, from engaging in debt collection activities relating to the TRAP debt, and from all other unlawful activities relating to the TRAP.”

The case is brought by Towards Justice, a nonprofit legal group that represents workers, as well as the nonprofit Student Borrower Protection Center and Jubilee Legal, a California-based debtor and consumer rights law practice.

PetSmart did not immediately respond to Law&Crime’s request for comment.

Read the lawsuit, below.

[Images via PetSmart.]

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