Founders settles racial discrimination lawsuit


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Founders Brewing Co. has settled the racial discrimination lawsuit at the center of a controversy that led to the temporary closure of its Detroit taproom and prompted its inclusion and diversity director to resign.

Founders said in a Thursday statement that the details of the settlement would not be made public.

Tracy Evans, who is black, sued the Grand Rapids-based brewery last year, claiming 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.

Last week, a deposition from the case was leaked to the media. In it, the former manager of the Detroit location refused to give a straight answer when asked about Evans’ race, sparking public outrage. As a result, the company pulled out of a beer festival and temporarily shut down is Detroit taproom. Some bars stopped serving the beer. Saying the company botched its response to the leak, the diversity and inclusion director (who was hired after the lawsuit was filed) quit.

In a statement announcing the settlement posted on the Founders website, company co-founders Mike Stevens and Dave Engbers said they “agreed that nobody be viewed at fault here.”

They went on to say that while dealing with the case, they had “listened, engaged in self-discovery and reached common ground to make amends.” They said they are “committed to moving the cause of diversity and inclusion forward for Founders.”

A statement from Evans released by Founders said that while he doesn’t know what’s going to happen next at the brewery, “we have started looking at how ALL of this is affecting human lives” and that he believed that “‘seeing color’ and valuing people for who they are, and their collection of experiences is the mission.”

He apologized to Founders employees who weren’t involved in the case but were affected by the controversy.

In a letter to employees obtained by News 8, the co-founders said their decision to stay silent after the leak “hurt the good folks that love and support founders – all of you.”

“With the benefit of hindsight, we realize that we would have handled things differently by speaking up as soon as we became the subject of controversy,” the letter continued.

They added that the Detroit taproom would remain closed “until we and the Detroit management team can agree on the best strategy to successfully move forward.”

Founders’ full statement:

“We are pleased to settle this case and focus on the future. Through recent discussions with Tracy, we listened, engaged in self-discovery, and reached common ground to make amends. We agreed that nobody be viewed at fault here. Most importantly, this serves as an opportunity to place our full attention on the work we now have to do, as a company of more than 600 dedicated team members, to rebuild our relationships.

“Significantly, we are committed to moving the cause of diversity and inclusion forward for Founders. We want every employee to feel valued, respected and safe. We abhor discriminatory action of any type and believe that beer should bring people together and not divide.”

Evans’ full statement:

I am not going to say too much here but I want the world to know the power we have when we step forward and make ourselves heard. Upon hearing us, businesses also have the power to make changes or not. I don’t know what happens from here within the doors of Founders Brewing Co. I do know this; we have legal resolution and we have started looking at how ALL of this is affecting human lives. I don’t know what Dave and Mike have planned for the future, but I know that that “seeing color” and valuing people for who they are, and their collection of experiences is the mission. Learning from our mistakes is also part of the mission.  Founders as a whole made some bad choices. I, as an individual made some mistakes but on this day we look to move forward. When someone offers to change, as humans we have a few choices and I have made the choice to see what Founders does with the path that they are about to take. To those that were affected by all of this within Founders and had nothing to do with this, I apologize. To the few of those that were affected by this and you are a part of the problem, I hope you listen to what your company is about to start saying. Craft beer is about coming together and celebrating our differences and no dollar amount should make a company want to forget that. A company is nothing without its workers and you deserve to be valued as such and there should be a clear line of what those goals are. As there are still people working for Founders that I still love very dearly, I hope for nothing but the best for Founders in the future. I will also be moving on and continuing this fight around the world as the issues that I experienced at Founders are not just a Founders issue, they happen everywhere and I vow to continue to be a vessel to help both employers and employees become better at acknowledging, understanding and dealing with them.

“Love you all, thanks for the support and let’s continue to stand up for what’s right.”

Founders’ letter to employees:

Graci Harkema, the former diversity and inclusion director at Founders, released this statement to News 8 Thursday:

“I’m glad to see that Founders has finally settled the lawsuit. They had the opportunity to do the right thing a long time ago. I hope the leadership team truly does use this experience to committing to prioritizing diversity and inclusion with their employees, their consumers, and the community.

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