Leading Wine Magazine Hit with Transgender Discrimination Lawsuit

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By: Jess Lander

Wine Spectator, a leading wine magazine headquartered in Napa, is facing a lawsuit from a former employee who has alleged transgender discrimination and harassment.

April Louis, who was hired as an assistant tasting coordinator in 2022, alleges she was wrongfully terminated earlier this year following medical absences for three gender-affirming surgeries. The lawsuit argues that Louis has experienced economic harm, in addition to “emotional distress, humiliation, physical pain and mental suffering.”

The lawsuit also alleges that a senior editor at Wine Spectator, widely considered the leading wine magazine in the U.S.,“repeatedly” violated the company’s blind-tasting protocol — the system of impartial wine criticism crucial to the magazine’s credibility.

The complaint, filed in Napa County Superior Court on Tuesday, lists Wine Spectator’s parent company, M. Shanken The Shanken Communications, and Louis’ supervisors — senior editor Mary Ann Worobiec and M. Shanken president Laura Zandi — as Communications, as defendants.

“The allegations in the complaint are without merit and our clients plan to vigorously defend the case,” said Michael Weber, an attorney for M. Shanken Communications and the other defendants, in a written statement to The Chronicle.

Louis declined to comment, but Alexis R. Gamliel, one of Louis’ attorneys, emphasized the “importance of this case in the purview of employment issues and issues related to transgender individuals in today’s world.”

Wine Spectator hired Louis in February 2022. Before she was offered the position, Louis told her future supervisors, including Worobiec and Zandi, that she identified as transgender; would need to take significant time off of work for multiple gender-affirming procedures; and would require certain accommodations upon her return to work as she recovered, according to the complaint.

The lawsuit states that Louis returned to work after her first procedure in April “earlier than was medically recommended” after a co-worker fell ill. Following her second procedure in July, Louis returned to work after two weeks of recovery and was immediately notified about an upcoming performance review with Worobiec. Louis believed that the criticisms she received were “blatantly incorrect” and “retaliatory,” according to the complaint. 

An annual performance review completed in November, however, was “overwhelmingly positive and complimentary,” the lawsuit states. Shortly thereafter, Louis underwent her third surgical procedure and was prescribed six weeks of time off. During her absence, Wine Spectator gave her a raise. 

While Louis returned to work at the beginning of 2023, the lawsuit states, she was “severely struggling with her recovery and experiencing significant psychiatric and psychological disabilities” and was referred to an inpatient facility for psychiatric care. In early February, Worobiec notified her that she’d been placed on involuntary administrative leave without explanation, according to the complaint.

On Feb. 17, 2023, Louis was terminated from Wine Spectator. The complaint states that her medical insurance coverage was  was canceled that same day. 

During her tenure, Louis claims she lodged multiple complaints to Wine Spectator staff, including Worobiec, against senior editor James Molesworth, who reviews California Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir, for “changing wine scores after opening bags mid-flight” — meaning he would allegedly change a score after seeing the wine’s label.