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Groomers say PetSmart leaves them in debt for ‘free’ training

PetSmart promises its groomers free training but forces them to pay it back if they leave the company before two years, a California lawsuit says.

PetSmart promises its groomers free training but forces them to pay it back if they leave the company before two years, a California lawsuit says.

Screenshot from PetSmart Facebook page

PetSmart promises prospective groomers “free paid training” but forces them to pay back thousands of dollars if they leave the company before two years, according to a class action lawsuit.

The lawsuit, filed in California on behalf of former groomer BreAnn Scally, says that Scally was forced to take on thousands of dollars in debt to complete the company’s “grooming academy” and was then subjected to unfair working conditions.

PetSmart, a pet supply chain with stores across the United States, requires all who enroll in its “grooming academy” to sign a Training Repayment Agreement Provision, or a TRAP, that mandates each apprentice to take on $5,000 in debt, the suit says. The company also encourages prospective groomers to acquire a kit of grooming tools from PetSmart, adding another $500 to their total.

The company forgives the debt only if workers stay in their jobs for two years, “no matter how little they are paid or how poorly they are treated,” the lawsuit says.

Scally started as a pet bather at a PetSmart in Salinas in February 2021. Salinas is about 175 miles south of Sacramento.

A few months later, Scally entered PetSmart’s grooming academy, which the company has advertised on its website and social media pages as being free and paid and consisting of 800 hours of training and supervised grooms with 200 dogs, the lawsuit says.

Scally said she got little one-on-one training because her trainer was also the manager of her salon and was busy running the business, performing her own grooms and supervising other groomers.

The class action suit also says that groomers in training are asked to groom dogs for paying customers with little supervision, but are not eligible for the 50% commission that stylists get for each groom.

Once Scally completed her training, she said she was working in a stressful environment where she was asked to work through her breaks and was paid little more than minimum wage.

She quit in September 2021 because of the stress, and in January 2022 got a notice from a collection agency that PetSmart was trying to collect $5,500 from her.

Any employee who completes the training and leaves the company before two years, whether voluntarily or involuntarily, is required to pay back the full price of the training and the grooming supply kit within 30 days. The debt is cut in half if the employee leaves after one year, the lawsuit says.

PetSmart said in a statement that other training programs in the grooming industry can cost more than $10,000.

“We are proud that PetSmart’s on-the-job training program offers a rewarding career path without the out-of-pocket costs associated with other training programs,” the statement says. “As far as the lawsuit, out of respect for both parties, we do not comment on litigation.”

The statement calls the grooming academy a “robust, multi-week program combining classroom and hands-on training, and is critical to maintaining our industry-leading standards.”

But the class action suit says that the company leaves employees in debt, with no recognized degree or credential and incentivizes them to stay in low-paying, often stressful jobs until their debts are forgiven.

“Prospective groomers quickly find themselves grooming dogs for paying customers and may have to struggle for attention from overextended trainers or salon managers,” the lawsuit says. “ … And eleven groomers complete Grooming Academy, they are thrust into a demanding and sometimes dangerous job, often working for barely above minimum wage.”

The plaintiffs ask that the court award them “appropriate” monetary relief, damages and attorney fees, but do not name an exact figure. The lawsuit also asks that the court issue an injunction against PetSmart to prevent the company from continuing to make “false statements” about its grooming academy.

Madeleine List is a McClatchy National Real-Time reporter. She has reported for the Cape Cod Times and the Providence Journal.

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