American Wine Experts Facing Termination After Sexual Harassment

In October 2020, the New York Times released a piece about the 21 women who were sexually harassed by their male colleagues. Following the sexual harassment investigation, many are still wondering if enough is being done. The court trials show that at least 21 women have come forward with similar stories of manipulation and sexual advancements. Yet, none of the accused have gotten trialed in a criminal court. However, the fate of their careers is being challenged in the Court of Master Sommeliers. Keep reading to learn more!

The Accused Consist of 6 Men

The accused men are Bob Bath, Fred Dame, Fred Dexheimer, Drew Hendricks, Joseph Linder, and Matt Stamp. However, not much is known of the males, other than they are members of the Court of Master Sommeliers-Americas. If you're not familiar, this is a title that is very serious in the wine industry. Those who possess this title are top-tier wine experts.

Possible Membership Termination

The accused were facing membership termination for their sexual misconduct and abuse. The 6 members also had 30 days to contest the decision of the Court of Master Sommeliers. The charge was to not allow the 6 members to ever reinstate in the program. This also meant they would not be able to participate in any scheduled activities with the Court of Master Sommeliers. They would also get banned from applying the name "master sommelier" in their title.

History of Abuse

Those who investigated the sexual harassment accusations have not released all of the details. However, we do know that the men used their "power" as a way of exploiting the victims. This statement comes as no surprise. Being that this power dynamic is seen in many assault stories. In fact, Geoff Kruth, a speaker in the Netflix documentary Somm, officially resigned last year due to similar stories. The resignation came after 11 women shared their experiences with sexual abuse and power conflicts at the hands of Mr. Kruth. One woman stated that she was asked for sexual favors from Kruth, in exchange for professional advancements. However, Kruth is only a small part of the sexual abuse within the wine industry. In fact, many female members of the court reported a history of sexual harassment and intimidation. And the group's leader tolerated and even turned a blind eye to the horrific acts. It's also important to note that a man named Erik Entrinkin was also suspended during these court proceedings. However, he filed a lawsuit against the Court of Master Sommeliers. In the statement written by his lawyer, the disciplinary actions against him were a violation of his "right to due process". The lawsuit appears to still be under appeal. And many became stunned by Entrinkin's decision to file a lawsuit against the organization.

Who Conducted the Sexual Harassment Investigation?

We know that the investigation was led by an outside firm. Therefore, there was little to no possibility for wrongful investigation processes. However, Liz Dowty Mitchell, one of the victims, declined to answer any questions. She stated that she did not feel confident in the process. She also voiced her disapproval of the immediate release of the investigation results. But her frustration came to a peak when she noticed only men accused of a less severe crime were getting punished. And the men accused of devious sexual abuse had not been formally charged or expelled.

Details on the Alleged Crimes

There are many accounts of the alleged sexual abuse that took place. For example, one of the victims stated that Mr. Dame repeatedly touched her inappropriately. She also stated that Dame had verbally harassed her with "sexual suggestions". Dame was contacted by a reporter, following these allegations, and he hung up the phone after a few minutes. Another report from a woman stated that Drew Hendricks was her main attacker. She stated that she was groped repeatedly by Hendricks. But one of the most disturbing tellings of the abuse is that Hendricks asked her for a pair of her underwear so that he could "snuggle with". And like Dame, Hedricks also refused to give a statement on the alleged assaults that took place. Matt Stamp was another defendant who had sexual relations with two female undertakers. During which, the female undertakers were going through the examination process for sommeliers. Matt Stamp made a statement earlier this year stating that the relationships were inappropriate. However, not much is known about the details of the relations. For example, if they were non-consensual or coerced. However, we do know that all of these statements have a pattern of deceit and willingness to forget.

Results of the Case

After a year-long investigation, the findings were finally handed over to the Court of Master Sommeliers-Americas. Following the release of the investigation, the Court of Master Sommeliers-Americas has teamed up with RALIANCE. RALIANCE is an institution that works to end sexual violence and not just in the workplace. The two have been working side by side reviewing the findings of the investigation. But also studying ways to prevent similar stories. In addition, the Court of Master Sommeliers has also dropped the memberships of the six men. And we also know that other un-known members have been reprimanded with a temporary suspension. They will also have to complete a training program for sexual assault awareness. But after more research, some of the members have been removed from suspension altogether. The court stated that there wasn't sufficient evidence to reprimand everyone involved. This decision has left many members scared for the future of the organization.

Issues with Diversity and Exclusion

Many ex-members in the sommelier community have also pointed out other issues in the organization. More specifically, issues about a "male-dominated" organization and lack of diversity. For example, out of the 172 members of the Court of Master Sommeliers America, 144 are men. This unbalanced number has left many wondering if the Court was aware of the lack of diversity and opportunities for women. But more importantly, women of color. However, since the events, the Court has implemented ways to ensure diversity within the organization. They have also promised new levels of safety for all of its members. Alpana Singh, one of the first women of color to hold the title of Master Sommelier, stated that she supported the Court's initiatives "to ensure the safety and well-being of candidates." She also approved any and all efforts to make the Court "more diverse and inclusive. Unfortunately, Singh has resigned from the Court of Master Sommeliers. She made this decision following the numerous sexual assault allegations. Singh also stated that she no longer associates with the Court. Therefore, she does not know the extent of the resolutions taking place. However, she hopes anyone who had their trust violated was able to get to a resolution with a precise and honest report.

LQBTQ Issues

Similar to diversity and gender imbalance, many members have also stated their positions on the lack of LQBTQ members. The organization has never had an openly queer person. However, following all of the allegations, the organization has implemented new scholarship opportunities. And many hope this is enough to change the dynamic of the industry.

The Aftermaths of Abuse

After such tragedy, Emily Wines, the chairwoman for the Court of Master Sommeliers, stated that they would learn from these lessons and find ways to change the industry for good. In a quote taken from the NYT, Emily Wines specifically stated: "What became clear through this investigation was the need for a seismic cultural shift within our organization". She also expressed her deep condolences for the victims. The court itself also released an open letter to the survivors. The letter stated their acknowledgment of the abuse. They also stated they will never comprehend the survivor's trauma from the events. The letter also admitted to not having the proper "safeguards" to protect workers from this kind of abuse. But, they promised that no future members would ever have any similar experiences. However, some believe this letter comes a little too late-- since the court allegedly knew about the abuse taking place for many years. With that said, many believe that the explosions of the men will not repair the organizations. However, it is a step in the right direction!