Hollis Bulleit has worked as a brand ambassador for her family’s namesake company, Bulleit Bourbon, for the last 25 years, but in December she was abruptly fired. In a series of Facebook posts, she claims that her job ended because she brought her partner to Thanksgiving dinner, and that the issue stems from her family’s refusal to acknowledge her relationship.
Bulleit alleges that she was ready to sign a new contract with Diageo, the alcohol corporation that owns the Bulleit distillery, last summer. But after bringing her girlfriend Cher to Thanksgiving dinner, she said she was disinvited from Christmas and Diageo severed ties:
Shortly after coming out the closet a decade ago not one family photo has been taken of me (or with me and Cher) with the core Bulleit family. Many events took place at the Bulleit family home with Diageo employees and no one ever said a word about what was obviously missing from photographs or the events (Cher and I). For the past decade, I have held these secrets; which have only served to exacerbate my suffering. The times I asked for help I did not receive it and soon thereafter I was out of a job. No one should have to make these choices. I gave my life to my family and my brand but I also was expected to give up my dignity.
Bulleit wrote that she was also offended by the way her job was characterized in a recent interview with her father, Tom Bulleit, who said she “sent faxes.” Bulleit insists she has been integral to the company’s growth, building many contacts and hosting over 115 events.
The core issue, from Bulleit’s perspective, is her family’s homophobia, though she also blames Diageo, which has historically been seen as having an excellent record for supporting LGBT employees:
I do not understand how the company I worked for is on many of the top 10/ 50/ 100 “best places” for LGBTQIA employees to work. I’m sick of hearing stories from sales reps that I am not working because of problems I have with my family, and hearing the opposite from friends of the family who blame Diageo for the fact that I am not working.
Forbes reports that Bulleit’s accusations are in dispute, as she has been openly out as a lesbian for a number of years. Diageo claims that her employment with the company came to and end because they were unable to agree to terms in her contract; the company contests that her sexual orientation was a factor.
Forbes also notes that the liquor industry is dominated by young people, especially in sales, and that Bulleit’s last name may actually work against her if she’s looking for a new job in the industry. She agrees, and in another post wrote that she fears she has been stripped of her ability to make a livelihood with another company:
My skill set is whiskey education and sales and I am 43 years old; I’m no promo girl.
I cannot get job references from Diageo or Tom Bulleit, further limiting my career options. I cannot make a living simply dressing up and being fabulous or as the life of the party. Therefore my livelihood and future was taken away and my talents were squandered, of which do not easily translate to other jobs. This past year I did not only lose an over 25-year career, but I also lost myself. I literally lost my name and the worth that comes with it.