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Founders Brewing Bails on Detroit Fall Beer Fest Amid Criticism Over Racial Discrimination Lawsuit

The Detroit Beer Experiment still plans to serve recipes made in collaboration with Founders

The patio at Founders in Detroit features a firepit with the logo on it.
Founders Brewing Company
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.

Facing mounting public criticism and calls for boycotts over a racial discrimination lawsuit, Founders Brewing Company has withdrawn from this weekend’s Detroit Fall Beer Festival at Eastern Market, the Detroit Free Press reports.

Founders, which is Michigan’s largest brewery, has been embroiled in a lawsuit for the past year filed by a black former employee Tracy Evans. Evans alleged in the filing that Founders tolerated a pervasive culture of racism at both its Detroit and Grand Rapids locations. During his time at both facilities between 2014 and 2018, the plaintiff claimed that he witnessed multiple incidents of employees using racial slurs. The lawsuit also described “blatantly racist” behavior by management including allegations that the upstairs management printer at the Grand Rapids sites was labeled the “white guy printer” while the ground floor, general employee printer was labeled the “black guy printer.”

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. Evans alleges that in 2018, he was terminated after filing a complaint with human resources. Attorneys for Founders maintain that Evans was fired not because of his race, but because of poor job performance.

The lawsuit was first reported last fall, but gained new traction this week when parties leaked a deposition transcript for Founders’ Detroit general manager Dominic Ryan — the man who fired Evans. In the transcript, Ryan claims he doesn’t know whether Evans is black and says he also doesn’t know whether public figures Barack Obama, Michael Jordan, or Kwame Kilpatrick are black, because he “never met” them.

Speaking with Eater on Tuesday, Evans called out Ryan’s comments as part of a culture that dismisses racism and allows companies and individuals to ignore problems that impact minorities and women. “How can you as a person, a company, a corporation, an individual — how can you understand and have sympathy or empathy for the things that minority people of color or women go through at your establishment, if you can’t even admit and can’t even acknowledge and know that these people are minorities?,” he said.

Founders’ attorney Patrick M. Edsenga of Miller Johnson released a full copy of a statement responding to the article by Metro Times. The response denies that race or retaliation played into Evans’ termination as events and promotions manager at Founders Detroit’s taproom. Edsenga says the legal team says plans to present evidence to the court soon in an effort to get the case dismissed. The brewery’s social media accounts have gone silent since the statement was released.

The report stirred social media backlash and cast a shadow over the upcoming beer festival — one of Detroit’s largest annual beer events. Beer fans and beverage companies across the country are calling for a Founders boycott. At least one local brewer Eastern Market Brewing Co. announced it was withdrawing from the event in protest of Founders’ continued participation. The brewery is still hosting events at its taproom throughout the weekend and has pledged to donate 10 percent of all revenue from Friday and Saturday to Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion.

Reached by Eater on Wednesday, EMBC co-founder Dayne Barscht says the brewery is reevaluating its decision to pull out of the festival. The brewery plans to shutdown an hour early today for an all-staff meeting “so that we can discuss the festival as a team and make a collective decision,” as to whether the company will once again participate in the festival. EMBC plans to make an official announcement later this evening on social media.

A large group of people walk between beer tents on a sunny day at Eastern Market.
People visit tables at the Detroit Fall Beer Festival in 2014.
Michelle and Chris Gerard

Eater reached out to the Michigan Brewers Guild, which operates the Detroit Fall Beer Festival, for comment on EMBC’s boycott. A publicist for the Michigan Brewers Guild responded on Wednesday morning: “Occasionally we have brewery members drop out of a festival, and while that is unfortunate, the celebration this weekend will be about all the great Michigan breweries and beers that are present.” The statement is nearly identical to one sent to the Detroit Free Press confirming Founders’ decision to pull out of the event. The Michigan Brewers Guild did not respond to questions about whether the organization was taking an active role in improving diversity and inclusion in the Michigan beer industry.

While Founders won’t be hosting a table at the event, the brewery collaborated with organizers of the Detroit Beer Experiment. Batch Brewing Company’s owner and Detroit Beer Experiment organizer Stephen Roginson told the Free Press that he was disappointed with Founders but plans to still serve the collaboration beers this weekend.

Update, 12:44 p.m., October 23, 2019: This story has been updated with comments for Eastern Market Brewing Company.

Founders Brewing Will Skip Detroit’s Fall Beer Fest Amid Racial Discrimination Lawsuit [Freep]
Founders Manager Claims in Discrimination Lawsuit Deposition He Didn’t Know Employee He Fired Was Black [ED]
Former Founders Brewing Co. Employee Files Lawsuit Alleging Racial Discrimination [ED]
All Beer Coverage [ED]
All Lawsuits Coverage [ED]
All Founders Coverage [ED]

Founders Brewing Co. Detroit

456 Charlotte Street, , MI 48201 (313) 335-3440 Visit Website

Founders Brewing Company

456 Charlotte St., Detroit, MI Visit Website

Eastern Market Brewing Co

2515 Riopelle Street, , MI 48207 (313) 513-2200 Visit Website