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Founders Settles Racial Discrimination Lawsuit Filed by Former Employee

“I want the world to know the power we have when we step forward and make ourselves heard,” plaintiff Tracy Evans says

A man walks up the path to Founders Brewing Company’s Detroit brew pub on a sunny afternoon. 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.

Following more than a week of intense blowback over a racial discrimination lawsuit, Founders Brewing Company released a statement on Thursday announcing that it has reached a settlement with former employee Tracy Evans. The terms of the agreement were not disclosed and the parties declined to speak further on the lawsuit.

“We are pleased to settle this case and focus on the future,” brewery co-founders Mike Stevens and Dave Engbers wrote in a joint statement:

Through recent discussions with Tracy, we listened, engaged in self-discovery, and reached common ground to make amends. We agreed that nobody be viewed at fault here. Most importantly, this serves as an opportunity to place our full attention on the work we now have to do, as a company of more than 600 dedicated team members, to rebuild our relationships.

Significantly, we are committed to moving the cause of diversity and inclusion forward for Founders. We want every employee to feel valued, respected and safe. We abhor discriminatory action of any type and believe that beer should bring people together and not divide.

Evans filed a lawsuit last fall, accusing Founders of permitting a culture of racism with multiple allegations of employees using racial slurs. Founders denied wrongdoing and vowed to fight the lawsuit. However, the controversy reached a fever pitch last week, when a transcript of a deposition by general manager at the Detroit location who was involved in Evans’ firing leaked to the press. In it, the manager refused to acknowledge that Evans is black. Evans told Eater last week, the he felt the transcript illustrated a larger issue with how people discuss race.

Tracy Evans, a man with a beard, smiles at the camera wearing a hat, round-framed sunglasses, and a black shirt with pink writing reading “It’s Not Right.”
Tracy Evans.
Leigh Ann Cobb Photography [Courtesy Photo]

Evans has previously stated his intentions to launch an organization called It’s Not Right, to help others who’ve faced harassment or discrimination in the workplace. In a statement regarding the settlement, Evans says that he hopes others will similarly speak out and have their voices heard:

I’m not going to say too much here but I want the world to know the power we have when we step forward and make ourselves heard. Upon hearing us, businesses also have the power to make changes or not. I don’t know what happens for here within the doors of Founders Brewing Co. I do know this; we have legal resolution and we have started looking at how ALL of this is affecting human lives. I don’t know what Dave and Mike have planned for the future, but I know that that “seeing color” and valuing people for who they are, and their collection of experiences is the mission. Learning from our mistakes is also part of the mission. Founders as a whole made some bad choices. I, as an individual made some mistakes but on this day we look to move forward. When someone offers to change, as humans we have a few choices and I have made the choice to see what Founders does with the path that they are about to take.

To those that were affected by all of this within Founders and had nothing to do with this, I apologize. To the few of those that were affected by this and you are a part of the problem, I hope you listen to what your company is about to start saying. Craft beer is about coming together and celebrating our differences and no dollar amount should make a company want to forget that. A company is nothing without its workers and you deserve to be valued as such and there should be a clear line of what those goals are.

As there are still people working for Founders that I still love very dearly, I hope for nothing but the best for Founders in the future. I will also be moving on and continuing to fight around the world as the issues I experienced at Founders are not just a Founders issue, they happen everywhere and I vow to continue to be a vessel to help both employers and employees become better at acknowledging, understanding and dealing with them.

Love you all, thanks for the support and let’s continue to stand up for what’s right.

In the last week, many restaurants and bars across the country have vowed to stop serving Founders products on menus. The company canceled a Canadian Breakfast Stout beer release in Detroit and closed its Detroit taproom indefinitely last Friday, expressing concern for the safety of employees. Around 15 of those taproom employees gathered on Saturday in Cass Corridor to meet with community members and demonstrate their commitment to diversity.

In a statement to Eater, Engbers and Stevens say they are “currently evaluating the situation with hopes to open the Detroit taproom as soon as possible.”

Founders announced plans to transfer 90 percent ownership to Spanish brewer Mahou San Miguel over the summer. That deal is expected to closed in January 2020.

Update, 8 a.m., November 1: This story has been updated with a statement regarding the reopening of the Detroit taproom.

Former Founders Brewing Co. Employee Files Lawsuit Alleging Racial Discrimination [ED]
Founders Manager Claims in Discrimination Lawsuit Deposition He Didn’t Know Employee He Fired Was Black [ED]
Founders Tells CBS Beer Release Ticket Holders It’s Closing the Detroit Taproom ‘Until Further Notice’ [ED]
Tracking the Fallout From Founders Brewing Company’s Racial Discrimination Lawsuit [ED]

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