Six master sommeliers may be sacked after sexual harassment investigation

The American chapter of the Courtyard of the Master Sommeliers , one of the world’s most influential wine organizations, is set to depor...


The American chapter of the Courtyard of the Master Sommeliers, one of the world’s most influential wine organizations, is set to deport six men accused of various sexual misconduct offenses after a nine-month investigation.

The survey followed a month of October 2020 report in the New York Times in which 21 women reported being sexually harassed, manipulated or assaulted by male master sommeliers. Current and former members have described the tribunal, whose members are mostly men, as a stronghold of sexual harassment and coercion known and long tolerated by the group’s leaders.

“What has become clear from this survey is the need for a seismic cultural change within our organization,” Emily Wines, chapter board chairwoman, said in a statement on Wednesday. of its investigation, which was conducted by an external company. The ad was first reported by The San Francisco Chronicle.

The court said it would not disclose specific findings about the six men: Drew Hendricks, Fred Dexheimer, Joseph Linder, Matt Stamp, Robert Bath and Fred Dame, one of the chapter’s founders. But he declared his investigation “Confirmed that the perceived power was harnessed by the members of the organization. The results corroborated behaviors ranging from inappropriate comments and flirting to non-consensual touching and the exploitation of a mentoring relationship for perceived consideration.

The court will hold a hearing on the proposed evictions within 30 days. If the men are evicted, they would be prohibited from seeking reinstatement, according to a letter sent to one of the men.

The chapter also banned Geoff Kruth, a prominent member who resigned last year, from seeking reinstatement. Shortly before the Times article appeared, Mr Kruth resigned as chairman of GuildSomm, the court’s educational spin-off. Eleven women told The Times that they were victims of sexual misconduct by Mr. Kruth. Reached by phone Thursday, he declined to comment.

More than a dozen women said Mr. Dame frequently engaged in unwanted touching and sexual innuendo. On Thursday, he hung up on a journalist.

One woman said Mr Hendricks grabbed his breasts, and another said he asked for “a pair of panties to snuggle up in” after refusing to sleep with him. Mr Hendricks and his lawyer did not respond to messages seeking comment. Neither do Mr. Bath and Mr. Dexheimer.

Mr Stamp, a former vice-chairman of the board, failed to disclose that he had sex with two women who went through the rigorous review process required to become a member. In a statement, Mr Stamp said he “should not have been near anyone taking an exam” with whom he was romantically involved, even though he had recused himself from supervising the exams for. these women.

He said he took responsibility for his error in judgment: “I will learn and grow from my mistakes and accept today’s decision with a heavy heart.”

Mr Linder, a master sommelier in Seattle who is now an entrepreneur, also said he takes responsibility for his actions, but the scandal points to a larger problem in the sommelier community. “When you are weakened, your best judgment goes out the window,” he said.

Liz Dowty Mitchell, 38, a sommelier in New Orleans, is one of two women who said Mr Dame slapped her on the back during court events. She also said last year that a man who counseled her repeatedly pursued her with sex invitations. He is not one of the men the chapter seeks to fire.

Ms Mitchell said she was contacted by an investigator in January, but decided not to participate in the investigation because she did not trust the process. She said she was taken aback by the sudden release of the investigation results and disappointed that men accused of more egregious sex were not among those sentenced to be deported.

“It’s really disheartening,” Ms. Mitchell said. “It’s incredibly uncomfortable. It doesn’t leave me with any sort of closure.

The court said 22 members had been investigated, but the “results did not support further action in some cases.” Some members, he said, will go through “different levels of rehabilitative education to enable members to take responsibility and then come back into good standing.”

Ms Wines, the chairman of the board, said that while “a small number” of investigations were continuing, the court decided to announce the proposed evictions because most of the investigations were completed.

Ms Mitchell said she was haunted by the belief that some men, including her mentor, who harassed women, would continue to be members.

“It’s a horrible feeling when I risked everything to come forward to protect future women,” she said. “I have no assurance that this will not happen again in the future, and that is why we have come forward in the first place to protect future women. It’s a pretty terrible feeling. It is as if everything is in vain.

In the days following the Times report, the chapter elected a new council. Devon Broglie, the chairman, had resigned, after a junior-level candidate said Mr. Broglie had an inappropriate sexual relationship with her before becoming president. The court said his resignation was unrelated to the allegations.

Mr Linder, one of the sommeliers marked for eviction, said he agreed with Ms Mitchell that some men accused of more serious abuse had not been punished.

“The hammer should have hit the people who prepared the candidates and had sex with them much harder,” he said. “And for some reason they got a pass.”

Kitty bennett contributed research.

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