Founders promises 3 years of donations in Detroit


DETROIT (WOOD) — In the wake of a damaging racial discrimination lawsuit, Founders Brewing Co. says it will donate all of the profits from its Detroit taproom to the community for the next three years.

“What we’re really striving to do here is to work with the community, we want to work with fellow Detroiters, we want to work with the neighborhoods, we want to work with our staff and understand where we should deploy those funds so that we really engage with the community in a very serious way,” brewery co-founder Mike Stevens said during a Thursday press conference in Detroit. “So out of all of this — as we all know, the last couple of weeks have been tough — we see a great future for Founders and great future for our taproom and how we can impact the community of Detroit.”

Stevens said the donations could total more than $2 million.

“Is it costly? That’s not the point here,” he said. “The point is really trying to connect in an honest way with the community and listening to the community and being part of it an real way.”

Stevens and co-founder Dave Engbers said the Detroit taproom, which was shut down late last month, is expected to reopen next year after a new general manager is hired — perhaps in January or February. They hope the new general manager will be a member of the Detroit community.

Founders said employees would be paid through the end of the year and that the workers would also be involved in “designing” the reopening.

A former employee filed a racial discrimination lawsuit against the Grand Rapids-based brewery last year. Tracy Evans, who is black, claimed he was treated more harshly than his white co-workers and that some co-workers used racial slurs toward him.

Last month, the leak of a deposition in which the former general manager of the Detroit location refused to give a straight answer when asked about Evans’ race sparked public outrage.

The backlash was widespread: Founders temporarily closed the Detroit taproom Oct. 25. It had to pull out of a Detroit beef festival. Some bars around the country stopped serving its beer. Saying the company botched its response to the leak, the diversity and inclusion director (who was hired after the lawsuit was filed) quit.

The general manager whose deposition was at the center of the controversy has been placed on leave and Stevens and Engbers said they were looking at his future in the company. They would not go into further detail.

Founders is still looking for a new diversity and inclusion director. For now, it is working with Detroit-based Thomas Group Consulting, which has been hired to help “Founders create its next chapter in Detroit.”

“I like them. I like their values and I believe they are very sincere in wanting to make a difference here in Detroit,” Buzz Thomas of Thomas Group said. “Over the coming months … we will move quickly and with great rigor to build out a system of diversity, equity and inclusion. Founders brews great beer guided by very specific processes. A successful DEI program will also create a process: a process for management, measurement, benchmarking and continuous improvement.”

Additionally, the company will hire a firm to conduct an independent audit of the workplace and determine if any improvements need to be made.

The lawsuit was settled last week. While the brewery did not admit wrongdoing, its leaders did say they had “listened, engaged in self-discovery and reached common ground to make amends” and were “committed to moving the cause of diversity and inclusion forward for Founders.”

Stevens and Engbers said Thursday that they lost a few hundred accounts nationally because of the controversy and that they would soon be hitting the road to try to win those accounts back.

They said that what they learn in Detroit will be implemented throughout the business.

“To our employees and to our customers, we want them to know that we’re sorry how this lawsuit affected them and perhaps put them in an awkward position,” Engbers said. “We want our legacy to be about bringing people together, enjoying great beer and building bridges.”

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