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Cicerone Certification Program cuts ties with employee accused of soliciting women after exam, which investigator concludes likely happened

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An investigator concluded it is “more likely than not” that a former employee of the Chicago-based Cicerone Certification Program drunkenly solicited multiple women for sex after administering an exam at a brewery in 2013, but added that the incident appeared to be “a one-time, isolated event, rather than a regular pattern of behavior.”

Even so, the Cicerone program, which certifies beer professionals globally akin to the wine industry’s sommelier programs, said on its website Friday that it has cut ties with the employee “to allow the Cicerone community to heal and move forward.” It framed the departure as a resignation.

Allegations against the former employee surfaced on Instagram in May, amid dozens of mostly anonymous accusations of sexual harassment and toxic workplace cultures across the beer industry. Days later, the Cicerone program said it was suspending the employee accused of what it called “indefensible behavior” while a lawyer investigated.

Results of the investigation, summarized in a report written by Chicago employment lawyer Kathryn Hartrick, were released Friday on the Cicerone website. The investigation was “far-reaching,” the report says, and sought “to understand whether the complained-of incident was isolated or part of a pattern, and whether there may be issues involving others.”

According to the report, the Cicerone program was aware of the incident involving the former employee days after it happened more than seven years ago, but the program’s leadership did not know details shared on the Instagram post.

On Instagram, an anonymous person said the former Cicerone employee approached women coming out of the bathroom at an unnamed brewery and asked for sex in the men’s bathroom. The person also said the former Cicerone employee “had hold of the sleeve of my jacket,” apparently while propositioning her.

The former Cicerone employee, whom the report did not name, attended a holiday party at the brewery on Dec. 7, 2013, the report says. According to the original Instagram post, the Cicerone employee was there because he had administered an exam on behalf of the Cicerone organization.

Someone from the brewery sent an email to the Cicerone program Dec. 10, 2013, saying multiple female employees found the former employee’s behavior “highly inappropriate” while declining to go into detail. The brewery asked for a different Cicerone employee to be sent for future visits.

The Cicerone program apologized three days later, according to the report, and placed the employee on a six-month probation on Dec. 18, 2013, with a warning that “any further related actions would result in his termination of employment,” the report says.

On Jan. 3, 2014, the employee emailed someone at the brewery to apologize for his behavior, which he said was result of being “far too drunk,” the report says.

Hartrick concluded that the discipline “appears to have been successful in preventing (the former employee) from engaging in the same or comparatively similar conduct.” However, she also concluded that “Cicerone could have been more responsive with its follow-up in 2013″ after learning of the event.

The report also raised three more complaints within the Cicerone Certification Program:

— The report mentions a complaint by a former employee against “Employee X,” who, it notes, was profiled by the Chicago Tribune in 2010.

The report says a former Cicerone employee said on Facebook that “Employee X” “used to say things to me about my dark hair and how he loved women with dark hair, and then immediately follow it up with ‘don’t sue me.’ I was 21 years old at the time.”

The report says the woman “credibly stated the complained-of comments were made in 2010,″ but did not issue a complaint at the time. According to the report, “Employee X” said he “did not recall making comments” to the former employee but “admitted he made comments about dark-haired women in and around 2010.”

The report also noted that in the Chicago Tribune profile, “Employee X” said he would tip “an extra dollar because the bartender is so cute.” The report says the employee “agrees he would not make the comments today, and he regrets making them in 2010.”

Hartrick concluded that “given the passage of time, the fact that the concerns were never reported, the absence of any other women coming forward to report unwelcomed comments,” the comment was “a lapse of judgment” that warrants training “but not necessarily discipline.”

— A former Cicerone employee complained in a Facebook post from March 2020 about a contracted instructor and examiner employed for the Cicerone program. The Cicerone program followed up with a staff meeting at which it decided to cut ties with the instructor, though the person hadn’t worked for the organization since August 2019. The person was asked this month to remove references to having worked for the Cicerone program, the report says.

— A former Cicerone employee complained about “unwelcome advances” from another former employee. Though the employee never complained about the advances, the other employee “was terminated by Cicerone.” The report does not explain the departure.

According to the report, Hartrick interviewed 21 people for the investigation in conversations ranging from 30 minutes to three hours. Among those interviewed were the person who wrote the original Instagram post, and current and former employees of the brewery and the Cicerone program.

In a statement on its website Friday, the Cicerone Certification Program said it “understands how much pain and anger these developments have caused our community, and we apologize for that. We also understand that the community is more interested in action than apologies.”

The Cicerone program laid out a series of steps it would take going forward, including creating an avenue to anonymously report incidents of sexual harassment.

The investigation into the Cicerone program came amid a broader industry discussion sparked last month by a Massachusetts brewer who has collected allegations of sexism and hostile behavior toward women in the beer industry, which the brewer has shared on her Instagram account.

In the days that followed, suburban Pollyanna Brewing announced its co-founder and majority owner had left the company after being accused of “numerous allegations” of what it described as sexual misconduct.

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