Former employees of Grgich Hills Cellar have sued winemaker Mike Grgich, claiming he sexually harassed two workers and fired a third for advocating for the others.
According to the lawsuit filed last week in Napa County Superior Court, Grgich, 80, fired his former bookkeeper, Lidija Hudnell, after she informed Grgich Hills management in December of the two teenagers' claims.
The sisters, age 17 and 19, allege that Grgich approached them on several occasions, touched them inappropriately, commented on their physiques, and forced them to "French kiss" him. The sisters, one who worked in the tasting room and the other who was a janitor, say they quit because of Grgich's conduct.
Grgich's attorney denies the claims and says he expects the case to be thrown out.
The lawsuit alleges that after Grgich heard the teenagers' accusations, he fired Hudnell for "facilitating the claim of sexual harassment." Hudnell, who worked for Grgich Hills for 16 years, received notice in April that her position at the winery was being cut for economic reasons.
The case also states Grgich and his staff have discriminated against the girls' mother, who still works at the winery.
Grgich's San Francisco-based lawyer, Joe Schwachter, said the case has no merit.
"This complaint was brought on by a disgruntled employee who was laid off and who got members of this family involved," said Schwachter, managing partner at Littler Mendelson. "I am more than 100 percent sure these charges will be dismissed."
The older of the two sisters quit in August 2002, claiming Grgich sexually harassed her at a Grgich Hills harvest party. While the suit alleges the younger sister was also groped at the party, she didn't quit until four months later, following a separate alleged incident at a company Christmas party.
The lawsuit claims Grgich's inappropriate conduct also occurred during a six-week span in the summer of 2002, when the younger sister was performing janitorial duties in Grgich's home.
Schwachter said there are no witnesses at the harvest and Christmas parties who saw Grgich grope the two girls. He also said his investigators have uncovered photos from the party showing the two girls "smiling and rubbing up on Grgich. They were dressed in provocative clothing."
Schwachter said the complaints of sexual harassment occurring prior to the parties that summer are false. He said Grgich was visiting his homeland of Croatia at that time.
"No one saw any misconduct at the party and there are no witnesses who saw Mike touch them in any improper way," Schwachter said.
The sisters' mother, who is also listed as a plaintiff in the case, still works at Grgich Hills as a janitorial employee. She says she can't leave because the job is her only source of income. She is suing Grgich for employment discrimination, claiming Grgich's executive staff has harassed her at work since the allegations were made.
Among the charges against Grgich and the winery are sexual harassment, sexual discrimination, retaliation, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
Not named in the lawsuit is the two girls' brother, who "likes his job at Grgich Hills and doesn't want any part of what his family is doing," according to Schwachter. The lawyer said that the son is distancing himself from "a ridiculous charge against a respected man in the community."
Judy McCann, a Sebastopol-based attorney representing the plaintiffs, said the son is not named because he is irrelevant to the case. She said he may have witnessed the discrimination, but was not a victim of it. McCann said the ordeal has been difficult for the alleged victims, especially the teenagers' mother, who says she is still suffering discrimination at Grgich Hills.
"She was a long term employee who was very loyal and worked hard for the company," McCann said. "This was hard for her to report, but she felt it was her duty to do so."