Inclusion director left Founders ‘to make a stand’

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Founders Brewing Co.’s first diversity and inclusion director resigned Friday, saying the company didn’t listen to her and didn’t properly handle controversy surrounding an ongoing racial discrimination lawsuit.

“I realized that I needed to make a stand and stand up for what I believe in,” Graci Harkema told News 8 Monday.

A leaked deposition in which a former manager of the Grand Rapids-based company’s Detroit location refused to give a straight answer when asked about the plaintiff’s race sparked public outrage. As a result, the company pulled out of a beer festival and shut down is Detroit taproom. Some bars have stopped serving the beer.

Harkema, who was hired on as the diversity and inclusion director after the lawsuit was filed, said her voice was ignored during the fallout and Founders’ slow reaction to the deposition was the final straw.

Founders responded to the deposition Friday, telling News 8 it did not condone any racial discrimination or harassment and it did not back the statements made by the former general manager.

“They did speak up on Friday, but Friday was too late,” Harkema said. “It already hit national news on Monday then on Tuesday and there were so many times where Founders could’ve spoken up earlier. And I understand that the leaked deposition and what was said in the deposition that wasn’t anything that Founders could control. However, what we could control is what happened after that.”

She said she made her resignation public to save her own reputation.

“Your actions have explicitly shown that you are more interested in the optics of my face then the impact of my voice,” she wrote in her resignation letter, posted online four days after the deposition was leaked.

Harkema said she was aware of the lawsuit prior to accepting the new position.

“I could sit on the sidelines and watch it all happen or I could be a part of the solution and I could be a part of positive change and that’s what I wanted to do,” Harkema said.

She says she quickly found that her ideas and opinions were being ignored. 

“In many of those conversations with our leadership team, I had suggested how we could respond and how we could acknowledge the overarching issues that were beyond the lawsuit, and more so the perception of what the community and the consumers were thinking and how we were not acknowledging what it means to not acknowledge someone’s identity and how we were not acknowledging systemic issues that we are seeing in our society,” she told News 8. “And I saw last week an opportunity for us to acknowledge that and opportunity for Founders to show empathy, to show and take action on what Founders said, Founders believes in and that didn’t happen, repeatedly.”

Founders responded to Harkema’s resignation Monday by saying it was sorry to see her leave, adding that it will continue the diversity and inclusion program:

“Graci Harkema had been valuable member of our Founders family during her time with Founders. We were sorry to receive her resignation on Friday. We sincerely appreciate all of her efforts to help move our company forward. 

“We will continue our diversity and inclusion program and plan to have leadership in place in that important area as soon as possible.”

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