Diageo ‘Benches’ Tom Bulleit Amidst Abuse, Homophobia Allegations

By B.E. Mintz |

Tom Bulleit, the co-founder and face of Bulleit Bourbon, will no longer publicly represent the popular whiskey brand according to a statement from Diageo. Bulleit’s removal comes amidst allegations of molestation, sexual assault, homophobia, and a toxic work environment detailed in Facebook posts penned by Bulleit’s estranged daughter Hollis B. Worth as well as a recent Neat Pour investigation.

Step Back

First reported by the Lexington Herald-Leader, Bulleit’s parent company, Diageo requested that Tom Bulleit “step back” from the whiskey in July. A spokesperson for the corporation labelled the abuse accusations as “a distraction to the brand and for Tom.”

“Diageo learned of claims of abuse, directed at her father, through a recent letter from Ms. Worth’s (née Bulleit) attorney. These claims had not been previously brought to Diageo’s attention by Ms. Worth or anyone else,” the spirts conglomerate informed the Kentucky newspaper in statement. “While it would be impossible for us to determine the veracity of these claims, given their nature, it was decided that Mr. Bulleit would step back from his brand ambassadorship role. Mr. Bulleit strenuously denies his daughter’s claims.”

As referenced by the statement, on June 25th, Worth’s attorney sent Diageo a letter alleging abuse by Bulleit. Additionally, in April, Worth’s counsel sent Tom Bulliet a letter contending that she built the brand equally with him and therefore should receive rough half of his royalty.

Diageo responded to Worth with plans for an internal investigation. Bulleit responded with a letter questioning the claim’s legal merits. Neither party notified Worth of Bulleit’s subsequent removal.

“I just found out about Tom being ‘benched’ yesterday. It was confusing to me to first hear about this from a reporter who works at my father’s local hometown newspaper and not from Diageo or Tom’s attorneys in July,” Worth told Neat Pour.

What ‘Benching’ Means

The Herald-Leader article stated that Bulleit will no longer serve as a brand ambassador. However, he still maintains offices at the brand’s distillery and visitor center. It is not difficult to find images of Bulleit posing with distillery visitors timestamped as recently as August.

Bulleit vehemently denies the accusations which he dismisses as financially motivated. He also told the paper that he hopes to return to the company one day. Details about the status of his consulting payments and royalties from Diageo were not disclosed.

Worth told Neat Pour that she believes the omission of those details is an indicator that Diageo is still cutting checks to Bulleit. She feels that her father’s scaled down profile is a publicity maneuver lacking in substance.

“Tom Bulleit and Diageo are still profiting from the brand as they very clearly stated with their sales numbers in the Lexington Herald Leader article. I still do not benefit from any of Diageo’s profits and I believe that they have still infringed on my right to publicity. No apology was offered by Diageo to me,” she said. “I do not know if this is a forward movement. It seems to me like CYA on their parts in reaction to me telling my truth on social media. I shared my story to enact long-lasting change in policy within Diageo, demand respectful treatment of my person and my worth from Diageo, and for reparations; this has still not occurred.”

Despite, the removal of Bulleit, Diageo still denies mishandling the situation. “We continue to be deeply disappointed by Hollis Worth’s false statements and inferences about Diageo, many of which have been shown to be untrue,” a company spokesperson told Herald-Leader this week.

A Long Conflict

Worth worked on the brand for almost two decade beginning during the spirit’s incubatory period in the mid-90’s. During that time, she was involved with key marketing and packaging decisions behind the scenes; publicly, Worth, a brand ambassador beginning in 2006, became the face of the brand in the bartending community. However, in 2017, she and Diageo parted ways.

The split was followed by a series of Facebook posts from Worth. On social media, she accused her father of abusing her and forcing her out of the business due to homophobia. She demanded payment from Diageo for previous, uncompensated work for the brand.

In response, Diageo issued a statement denying any prior knowledge of the accusations against Tom Bulleit. A NP review of numerous communications between Worth and Diageo dated between 2015 and 2017 reveals this to be untrue. 

In January 2018, Worth and Diageo announced a deal. Neat Pour verified that the resolution agreement provided payment equal to the failed five year deal as well as unpaid overtime. The agreement also included confidentiality and non-disparagement clauses. Both Worth and Diageo have since accused one another of violating said clauses.

In June 2019, Worth began posting on social media again. In a series of posts continuing through August 12, she detailed an alleged pattern of discrimination and abuse, including childhood sexual assault, by Tom Bulleit. 

Photo by Mark Hardie. [CC2.0]

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