Founders Brewing Company is holding off on reopening its Detroit taproom until early 2020.
The Michigan brewery settled a racial discrimination lawsuit with former employee Tracy Evans last week following nearly two weeks of controversy stemming from a leaked lawsuit deposition. As part of the fallout, the Grand Rapids-based company shut down the Detroit brewpub on October 25, citing concerns for the safety of employees. The company pledged to continue paying staff during the duration of the closure. Founders says now that it will continue to pay them through the end of 2019.
When it reopens, Founders pledges to donate 100 percent of its profits from the Detroit location to local charities and community organizations “through at least 2022,” per a release. The Grand Rapids-based brewery says it is in the process of connecting with local nonprofits to include determine how to apply its donations and “achieve the best possible impact for the city and its residents.”
In addition to the reopening, Founders hired Thomas Group Consulting to work with the company. The group’s principal Buzz Thomas will take over as interim director of diversity, equity and inclusion at Founders. He replaces Graci Harkema, who resigned on October 25 after less than a year with the company. Harkema claimed in her resignation statement that Founders’ leadership was more concerned with winning a lawsuit than with the reputation of employees and the brand. Founders plans to hire a firm to conduct an independent audit of the Founders workplace and has committed to a hospitality training program for formerly incarcerated Detroiters.
The company is also hiring a new general manager for the Detroit location; the previous general manager Dominic Ryan was the subject of the leaked transcript in which he avoided acknowledging that Tracy Evans was black.
“This experience has been humbling for us, but it’s put us in position to consider the type of future we want for Founders, creating a new vision for important aspects of the company,” brewery co-founder and CEO Mike Stevens says in a statement.
An former employee at the Detroit and Grand Rapids locations, Evans filed a lawsuit last fall alleging that Founders had among other things a “racist internal corporate culture” and claimed that he was fired from his position at the Detroit taproom for reporting an incident to human resources. Founders denied most of the allegations with the exception of several documented incidents of employees using racial slurs.
Following the release of the deposition in October, customers severed ties with the Founders Brewing Company brand. Founders also pulled out of the Detroit Fall Beer Festival and canceled a Canadian Breakfast Stout beer release event in Detroit. The following Saturday, the brewery’s employees gathered near the Detroit taproom to meet with community members and show solidarity with people of color, women, and the LGBTQ community.
Evans and Founders came to an agreement to settle the lawsuit last week. The terms of the deal were not undisclosed. “I want the world to know the power we have when we step forward and make ourselves heard,” Evans said in a statement announcing the settlement.
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.
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