GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Founders Brewing Co. temporarily shut down its Detroit taproom amid controversy about a lawsuit alleging racial discrimination.
“There’s a lot of tension down there right now and for the safety of our employees, we felt like the best thing to do to support them was to shut the taproom down,” Grand Rapids-based Founders co-founder Dave Engbers told News 8 Friday afternoon.
The taproom made the announcement on its Facebook post Friday morning, saying it would be closed until further notice. Founders promised all its workers would still be paid.
The Grand Rapids-based brewery is being sued by former employee Tracy Evans. Evans, who is black, claims he was watched more closely and disciplined more harshly than his white co-workers. He also said his co-workers used racial slurs toward him.
Earlier this week, the Detroit Metro Times released a long portion of a deposition transcript in which Dominic Ryan, general manager for the brewery in Detroit, was evasive when asked to say whether he knew Evans was black.
“The deposition was leaked… It’s a really unfortunate situation,” Engbers said. “We do not stand by his deposition. From day one, we had acknowledge the fact that Tracy Evans is an African American. He was a team member here at Founders for many years. I cannot speculate at what (Ryan) was thinking at that time.”
Founders previously released a statement from its attorney to the author of the Metro Times article saying that “Ryan was simply saying that he does not assume anything about individuals’ race or ethnicity unless they tell him that information.”
Ryan has been fired.
Also this week, the brewery dropped out of this weekend’s Michigan Brewers Guilt Detroit Fall Beer Festival over the controversy.
Some Detroit shops are pulling Founders beer from their shelves and a protest has been planned outside the Detroit taproom.
“The lawsuit just kind of turned into a social media blitz. Unfortunately, people are reading the headlines and they are not reading the content,” Engbers said.
The deposition aside, he said that the discrimination allegations are false.
“Unfortunately, our employee, the former employee was unable to do the job that we paid him to do,” he said.
“We are confident that we will prevail in this lawsuit. We’re anxious to put this behind us because there’s one thing that we are really great at and that’s making great beer and getting together with the beer community and celebrating life,” Engbers added.
He said that his company believes strongly in inclusion.
“Founders Brewing Co. has been about celebrating people from all different walks of life and has been from day one,” Engbers said. “It’s really the reason that (co-founder) Mike (Stevens) and I got into this industry because we feel so strongly that beer is the conduit that brings people together.”
A company spokesperson later provided News 8 with a list of the company’s guiding principles: inclusion, authenticity, passion, family, diversity, positivity, humility, dedication, community and purposeful progress.