Founders director resigns saying she was ignored

Michigan

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Founders Brewing Co. is facing another wave of backlash after its diversity and inclusion director resigned from the company Friday, claiming her input was ignored.  

The outgoing director, Graci Harkema, posted her scathing resignation letter to social media. The letter, directed at the company’s leadership team, criticized the way in which they’ve handled the fallout of the ongoing racial discrimination lawsuit against them. 

“You are most concerned with the ego of ‘winning’ than you are about the loss of customers, loss of reputation, and loss of employees’ wellbeing,” Harkema wrote in her resignation later.

Harkema was hired as the diversity and inclusion director in January, shortly after former manager Tracy Evans filed a lawsuit alleging racial discrimination. 

Hours before the resignation letter was made public, News 8 sat down with Founders co-founder Dave Engbers.

Within the last week, the controversy has escalated after a deposition related to the lawsuit was leaked. The fallout ultimately led the company to temporarily close its taproom in Detroit.  

In Harkema’s parting words to the company, she called out leadership for ignoring her input.  

“Your actions have explicitly shown you are more interested in the optics of my face than the impact of my voice,” she wrote.  

Founders Brewing Co. co-founders Mike Stevens and Dave Engbers provided this statement to News 8 Monday morning:

“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.”

In light of recent events, many Founders fans have ditched their allegiance to the Grand Rapids based beer company, especially in the Detroit area where the lawsuit was filed.  

In West Michigan, there’s been less of a noticeable response. Longtime patrons, like Jeff Mox, said they’re waiting to see how the lawsuit plays out before making any hasty decisions.  

“At this point people should really just sit back and relax and let the wheels of justice do their thing,” Mox said. “As ugly as it looks, wait for the dust to settle and then form your opinion from there.” 

Mox has a good pulse on the West Michigan beer community and runs the popular Facebook group, “West Michigan Beer Enthusiasts.” 

According to Mox, it seems West Michigan beer lovers are split in their reaction to the ongoing controversy. In his personal opinion as a patron, Mox believes Founders is a welcoming place where diversity is all around.  

“It’s not that you sit there and seek it out, but you see it just walking in,” Mox said. “All the years that I’ve been going there, you see people from all different backgrounds working there in the taproom.” 

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