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Wine expert says his removal from elite wine group for alleged sexual harassment violated due process

One member of an elite group of wine experts says his position on the board and membership in the lucrative organization was taken from him despite flimsy evidence of sexual harassment and an inability to fairly respond to the accusations.

(CN) — A member of an elite wine group filed suit in Santa Barbara County Superior Court against the organization that dismissed him from their board after sexual harassment allegations surfaced. He says he was never given proper notice of the nature of the allegations and the only ones that arose were minor or insignificant. 

Eric Entrikin, a certified master sommelier, sued the Court of Master Sommeliers, Americas, saying the organization unjustly terminated his stint as director of the organization's board and revoked his membership status in the highly coveted organization. 

“No member of the CMS Board has ever advised plaintiff of the specific charges against him, plaintiff has never had any semblance of due process, plaintiff has not had any semblance of an opportunity to be heard," the lawsuit states.

Entrikin was one of seven wine professionals who were suspended in November 2020 after allegations of sexual harassment were launched against the men by 21 different women who were also attempting to become certified master sommeliers. 

The so-called Court of Master Sommeliers isn’t a true judicial body, but is run by a nonprofit headquartered in Napa, California. However, attorneys for Entrikin said the court was subject to the rules of common law and should have made clear the allegations against their client and given him the opportunity to respond. 

Instead, he says he was unceremoniously stripped of a certificate that takes on average 10 years to complete and indicates a mastery of vinology that can prove vital to a career in the wine business. 

“Defendants ignored their fiduciary duties and due process in an attempt to save their position of power,” Entirkin said in the complaint. 

Entrikin said the only allegation he was aware of was by a single woman who claimed that he shoved money into her pocket without permission during an event hosted by CMS, briefly touching her buttocks. Later after the dinner, Entrikin was accused of hugging the woman by lifting her off the ground and making reference to a private plane while whispering in her ear. 

“Plaintiff initially requested the substance of the allegations presented to defendants CMS in January 2020,” Entrikin said. “Plaintiff was simply advised the identity of the complainant and the complaint involved ‘inappropriate touching.’”

Entrikin said that not only did the organization fail to honor his due process rights but also portrayed him in a false light by disseminating the allegations without verifying their veracity in a fair process. 

“Defendants and each of them acted intentionally or with reckless disregard for the truth, or alternatively, defendants were negligent in determining the truth ofthe information or whether a false impression would be created by its disclosure,” Entrikin said.

The Court of Master Sommeliers was established in the U.S. in 1997 and is part of a global network of governing organizations that verify individual mastery over all aspects of the wine industry, including knowledge of wine, skills at pouring and identifying wines and customer service. 

Those who pass the highest level are conferred with a high degree of professional rewards, along with attendant monetary awards. 

Geoff Kruth, a leading wine educator, resigned from the organization after 11 women accused him of attempting to extort sex in exchange for various professional favors. Entrikin says he has been inappropriately embroiled in a wide-ranging scandal that has nothing to do with his individual comportment. 

When the scandal broke the 11 women who were part of CMS wrote a letter apologizing for failing to support the women accusers.  

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