Wine Spectator Magazine

Wine Spectator Magazine

Wine Spectator

According to court records, a former employee is suing Wine Spectator for discrimination.

April Louis, who underwent initial gender-change surgery just months after being hired, alleges discrimination by the magazine, claiming that Wine Spectator and several of its employees create a hostile work environment and failed to provide access to “gender-affirming” care. The suit names Wine Spectator’s parent company, M. Shanken Communications Inc. of New York City; MaryAnn Worobiec, Wine Spectator’s Napa bureau chief and senior editor; and Laura Zandi, president, and chief operating officer at M. Shanken Communications.

Alleged Discrimination

Louis, an assistant tasting coordinator and writer, filed the complaint Tuesday in Napa County Superior Court. The document claims that Wine Spectator was guilty of transgender discrimination, harassment, failure to prevent discrimination, retaliation, and other allegations related to its “blind tasting” protocols.

Louis states the magazine disregarded the need for time off of work to continue to receive “gender-affirming” medical procedures and for workplace accommodations during recovery from each procedure, according to the complaint. According to the lawsuit, Louis underwent surgical procedures in April and July of 2022. The suit further alleges that Louis “came out” as transgender in May 2020, returning to work 11 days after the first procedure and several weeks after the second. In November 2022, Louis underwent a third related surgery and resumed working in early January 2023. The document further alleges that communication with the employer included a schedule delineating follow-up appointments and “needs related to rehabilitation and recovery.”

Louis’ lawsuit cites insensitivity over struggles with recovery, including significant psychiatric and psychological disabilities, the need for psychiatric treatment, and a referral to an inpatient facility for psychiatric care. Louis alleges that on Feb. 9, 2023, Wine Spectator invoked an “involuntary administrative leave,” followed nine days later by immediate termination during a video conference meeting with Worobiec and Zandi. According to the filing, Louis received a termination package that day, including canceling medical insurance coverage.

Louis claims that a work performance review scheduled upon return from the second surgery in July 2022 was “targeted and calculated” based on timing. Louis complained about being treated differently than other employees seeking “essential medical care,” based on alleged concerns by staffers about the time Louis would be away from work after medical procedures and during recovery.

Blind-Tasting Complaint

Louis also alleges retaliation for reporting that the wine reviewer violated the magazine’s blind-tasting and scoring policies. Typically, paper bags cover wine bottles during blind tastings, but in October 2022, Louis allegedly alerted that a wine reviewer “repeatedly” changed wine scores after opening bags “mid-flight” – after the wines “were no longer ‘blind’ in the wine tasting process,” according to the complaint. The lawsuit alleges that Louis’ complaints contributed to the termination.

Louis alleges that the hostile workplace was specific to transgenderism, referencing “obscene language, demeaning comments, and slurs” from coworkers and “multiple offensive and harassing comments and questions” from Worobiec directly to Louis. In one specific incident, Worobiec allegedly told Louis that she did not like “drag queens” and that they made her “uncomfortable.”

“Everybody deserves a work environment free of harassment,” one of Louis’ attorneys said on Thursday.

Vigorous Defense

Michael Weber, an attorney for M. Shanken Communications and the other defendants, stated in an email Friday, “The allegations in the complaint are without merit, and our clients plan to vigorously defend the case.”