Cicerone Certification Program Releases Findings From External Investigation

Following an investigation into sexually inappropriate conduct shared on social media, the Cicerone Certification Program announced today it has accepted an employee’s resignation.

“The employee in question, whose actions in 2013 prompted the investigation, has submitted his resignation to allow the Cicerone community to heal and move forward,” the Chicago-based beer education organization wrote. “The Cicerone Certification Program understands how much pain and anger these developments have caused our community, and we apologize for that.”

Accounts about the employee, whom Cicerone did not name and who has not publicly commented on the matter, surfaced on the Instagram account of Notch Brewing production manager Brienne Allan (@ratmagnet) among more than 1,000 stories from beer industry employees — mostly women — about the sexual harassment, assault and discrmination they’ve faced in the course of their jobs.

The employee was suspended in mid-May for what the Cicerone program called “indefensible behavior,” according to the Chicago Tribune.

Cicerone shared the findings of Hartrick Employment Law’s Kathryn M. Hartrick’s investigation, which referred to the now former employee as “Employee A.”

The story shared on Instagram last month alleged that Employee A “approached pretty much every female (though I don’t think he was that discriminatory) coming out of the bathroom to go and have sex with him in the men’s bathroom” during an event on December, 7 2013, at a brewery partner of Cicerone. The author of the Instagram story noted that the behavior was reported to the brewery’s human resources department at the time and that Employee A “would be dealt with and spoken to by his employer.”

Two days after the story was shared on Instagram, Cicerone retained the services of Hartrick Employment Law to investigate the December 2013 incident and directed the public to direct any complaints of past behavior to the firm. As part of its investigation, Hartrick Employment Law interviewed the person who wrote the story shared on Instagram on May 14 and six current and former employees of the partner brewery.

On December 18, 2013, Employee A “received corrective action” and was placed on a six-month probation that precluded him from traveling on Cicerone’s behalf with the admonishment that continued inappropriate behavior would result in his dismissal. Cicerone told Employee A in a note shared with Hartrick that “any instance of alcohol use which negatively affects your attendance or performance” would result in termination.

As a result, Employee A apologized to the brewery staff and said he was “terribly embarrassed and ashamed of [his] actions.”

“The preponderance of evidence supports the finding that, more likely than not, the December 7, 2013 incident involving Employee A was a one-time, isolated event, rather than a pattern of behavior,” Hartrick wrote.

However, the brewery “did not share with Cicerone the details that were provided” in last month’s Instagram story, and Cicerone was not aware of the extent of the behavior when it meted out punishment to Employee A in 2013.

“The preponderance of the evidence supports the finding that the corrective action Cicerone gave to Employee A on December 18, 2013, appears to have been successful in preventing Employee A from engaging in the same or comparatively similar conduct to the allegations raised by the May 14 Instagram complaint,” Hartrick wrote.

In addition to that complaint, Hartrick investigated three other incidents involving the Cicerone program, including one that arose from a mid-May 2021 Facebook post in which a former employee, identified as “Employee B,” wrote that an employee identified as “Employee X” would “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.”

Interviewed by Hartrick, Employee B said the comments were made in 2010 but said “she never complained about discrimination or harassment” while a Cicerone emplopyee.

Employee X told investigators that he didn’t recall making the comment to Employee B, but ”admitted he made comments about dark-haired women in and around 2010.” That includes a quote that was included in a July 11, 2010, Chicago Tribune article about tipping a bartender “an extra dollar because the bartender is so cute.” The Tribune attributed that quote to Cicerone founder and global director Ray Daniels.

Employee X said he wouldn’t make those comments today and regrets making them in 2010. Citing “the passage of time” and “absence of any other women coming forward to report unwelcomed comments by Employee X,” Hartrick chalked up the comments to “a lapse of judgment on the part of Employee X” and recommended “further training (or coaching) is warranted, but not necessarily discipline.”

Employee B also wrote a Facebook post on March 7, 2020, regarding treatment by a contracted instructor and examiner for Cicerone. The Cicerone program agreed to no longer retain the individual’s services as an instructor or examiner moving forward.

In another incident involving two other employees involving “unwanted advances,” both employees wished to remain anonymous. The unwelcome advances were never reported to Cicerone, which has since terminated the employee for reasons that were not made clear in the report.

Hartrick offered “next steps and recommendations” in her report for future responses to incidents. She noted that all witnesses would be contacted, provided the investigation’s findings and informed that the investigation is now closed.

Hartrick acknowledged that the Cicerone program “has already taken several steps to strengthen its processes,” but will “improve its complaint reporting and investigation processes.”

The investigator recommended that future harassment prevention training be held in-person and “incorporate a robust education about how individuals should behave when traveling away from the Cicerone office and attending functions.” The investigator said the training should “empower people to report incidents to Cicerone through a confidential hotline” and Cicerone examiners and instructors should also be included in the training.

“To regain trust with employees and the Cicerone community, it is recognized that Cicerone could have been more responsive with its follow-up in 2013,” Hartrick wrote. “Should any other matter of this type arise in the future, Cicerone will be more responsive.”

In those cases, Cicerone will work with an outside firm to conduct investigations of sexual harassment complaints.

“This could help to insert a level of objectivity into the process that many perceive is currently not present,” she wrote.

Should Ciceone take those investigations in-house, the program’s HR personnel should be trained in best practices for conducting investigations, Hartrick wrote. And once investigations are closed, Cicerone needs to communicate with complaints clearly about the findings and resolution — including whether the complaint was substantiated — while “recognizing that confidentiality concerns may prohibit disclosure of personnel actions.” Complaints should also be informed of what corrective action Cicerone is taking to prevent future incidents.

The investigator also recommended that Cicerone “consider conducting culture surveys, focus groups, and other means to better understand perceptions of the organizations. More recommendations will follow as the post-investigation work continues.”

On May 28, Cicerone shared that it would be “updating and strengthening the code of conduct for all exam proctors, examiners, instructors, both contract and employee” and adding a code of conduct for exam takers.