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Former Founders Brewing Co. Employee Files Lawsuit Alleging Racial Discrimination

The individual claims to have experience multiple incidents of racist behavior by coworkers

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A man walks up the path to Founders Brewing Company’s Detroit brew pub on a sunny afternoon.
Founders Brewing Company in Detroit.
Michelle and Chris Gerard
Brenna Houck is a Cities Manager for the Eater network. She previously edited Eater Detroit and reported for Eater. You can follow her on the internet at @brennahouck.

A former employee at Founders Brewing Company in Grand Rapids and Detroit has filed a lawsuit against the brewery alleging racial discrimination. In his filing, first reported by Metro Times, the employee Tracy Evans characterizes the company work culture as toxic and superiors as failing to adequately address racially behavior by employees.

The suit, filed on August 22 in the U.S. District Court in Eastern Michigan, claims that Evans “received unequal treatment, was denied a promotion, and was ultimately terminated based on his race and in retaliation for complaints regarding his treatment.” Founders has denied the allegations.

Evans, who is black, worked at both the Grand Rapids and Detroit locations of Founders beginning in approximately 2014. He got his start at the brewery as a packaging machine manager and was the events and promotions manager at the Detroit taproom at the time of his firing in June 2018. During his time in Grand Rapids, Evans claims that he encountered “blatantly racist” behavior by management. In one instance, the complaint alleges that Founders employees named the facility’s upstairs management printer the “white guy printer” and the downstairs general employee printer the “black guy printer.” Attorneys for the company denied the allegations regarding the naming of the printers in Founders’ response to the complaint.

According to the filing, Evans also claims he was passed over for promotions, despite having greater seniority and a better record of conduct than the two Caucasian employees who were ultimately hired.

In October 2017, Evans applied for a new position at the forthcoming Detroit taproom and prior to his relocation was approached by a white employee said “What’s up with Detroit my ni—?” to him. Evans filed a report on the incident with Founders’ human resources department, but according to the complaint the employee remained at the company. The brewery’s attorneys dispute this version of the events in their response to the complaint, stating that Evans told HR he “did not want the offending employee to be fired and preferred to have a conversation with the offending employee about the comment.” In Founders’ version of the events the company took “disciplinary action” against Evans’ coworker and made the employee apologize.

At the Detroit location, Evans alleges he experienced similar racist behavior by employees. “In one incident, the employees were discussing ex-Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick. Following [Evans] expressing his views, a Caucasian coworker looked at Plaintiff and said he needed to explain to Plaintiff what it meant to be the ‘head ni— in charge,’” according to the complaint. Evans “immediately expressed his displeasure with the comment, to which the Caucasian coworker reaffirmed his statement.” He then notified the general manager Dominic Ryan and a representative from human resources, Marguex Bouwkamp. Evans alleges that the employee was written up but that he “heard from other employees that the other employee was continuing to make racist comments “including but not limited to a complaint about how ‘dark’ the taproom’s cliental (sic) is.”

In the midst of planning an event for Founders, Evans states that he scheduled a personal day for June 1, 2018, to drive to Grand Rapids and bring his concerns about “the incidents and his work environment” once more to human resources. However, Evans alleges that general manager Dominic Ryan “questioned” Evans decision to take a personal day when he had not completed his project. Evans says he explained his reasoning for taking the day off and told Ryan that “he did not feel comfortable working alongside the employee” that was making racist comments. Evans gave in and “postponed his scheduled day off for fear of retaliation.” Evans was fired the following week. He filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in August.

Attorneys for Founders’ tell a different version of the events in their response to the complaint, though they do not deny the documented incidents involving employee use of the n-word though in some cases the company disputed how the incidents were handled.

Eater has reached out to Founders for comment. Stay tuned for updates.

Now Founders Is Being Sued for Racial Discrimination [MT]
Tracy Evans Complaint.pdf [Official]
Response to Complaint.pdf [Official]
All Lawsuits Coverage [ED]

Founders Brewing Company

456 Charlotte St., Detroit, MI Visit Website