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PetSmart ‘grooming academy’ traps workers in debt, lawsuit claims

PetSmart touts its free pet grooming training program, but enrollees say it mostly involves on-the-job training and lands thousands of dollars in debt if they don’t stick to the program for two years, according to a class – legal action.

PetSmart workers groom more than 13 million pets a year, promising four-legged creatures are “lovingly cared for” by professional stylists with extensive training, according to the lawsuit filed last week in the Superior Court of the State of California. But the retailers’ “grooming academy” does not provide recognized degrees or credentials, and also leaves workers “pushed into demanding and sometimes dangerous work, often working for little more than minimum wage,” alleges- he.

PetSmart — the nation’s largest pet supply chain with more than 1,300 stores nationwide — promises aspiring groomers free and paid training that includes classroom instruction and supervised hands-on experience. Instead, trainees quickly groom dogs for paying clients with limited supervision from trainers or handlers, according to the lawsuit.

Filed on behalf of BreAnn Scally, who last year worked as a bather and groomer at a PetSmart in Salinas, Calif., the lawsuit alleges she signed on believing the free training PetSmart advertised would help her pursue a career in animal rescue, only to find herself swimming in red ink. Unable to pay her bills earning little more than minimum wage, she quit on September 4, 2021.

“Tool to trap workers”

But Scally and other PetSmart groomers who decide the job isn’t for them aren’t free to move on, as the company requires them to sign a so-called training reimbursement agreement clause. , or TRAP, according to a new report released by the student borrower. Protection Center, or SBPC, a non-profit group focused on student debt relief.

PetSmart charges groomers $5,000 if they don’t stay with the business for at least two years after starting their training, and $2,500 if the person leaves after a year. But if a worker leaves before then, the agreement only gives them 30 days to repay, even if they have been laid off or terminated. The company may also bring a civil action against the person,

Such agreements have been used for years, but are now widespread among employers, including trucking companies, hospital operators, retailers and financial services firms, according to the SBPC.

“PetSmart is just another company cynically engineering new forms of student debt as a tool to entrap workers,” Mike Pierce, the group’s chief executive, said in a statement. The lawsuit “should send a clear warning to anyone interested in turning on-the-job training into a debt trap”, he added.

Student debt: is a degree worth it?


In January 2022, a collection appeared on Scally’s credit report for $5,500, and his credit rating dropped enough to hurt his chances of renting an apartment. She also decided against taking out additional student loans by returning to school for a veterinary assistant degree.

“PetSmart needs to find a better way for employees to become better groomers instead of trapping them with unfair debt,” Scally said in the SBPC statement, which supports his lawsuit. “I had improved my credit rating, and now I have to start all over again. It brought me back to square one.”

Privately held and owned by a private equity consortium led by BC Partners, PetSmart said in an email that it does not comment on ongoing litigation.

PetSmart’s website advertises “free and paid training worth $6,000”, and also promotes it on social media. PetSmart also claims to provide groomers with a free toolbox, but the scissors, brushes and other tools needed to get the job done add $500 to what workers have to pay back, unless they want to buy their own.

The $5,000 cost of the program far exceeds the value of the training and is far beyond what groomers could afford, taking away workers’ bargaining power to find jobs with better pay or working conditions. , according to the lawsuit.

“Most of what Scally learned was working on the training materials on her own or watching other groomers do their jobs,” he says.

The debt is illegal under California law, which allows employers to charge employees for training only if it is primarily for their personal benefit and not for training that primarily assists the employer, according to the suit. California does not require any specific license or degree to work as an animal groomer.


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