Founders Brewing Has Settled the Racial Discrimination Lawsuit That Prompted Boycotts

founders brewing racial discrimination
Courtesy of Founders Brewing Co.

Founders Brewing has settled out of court with former employee Tracy Evans in the racial discrimination lawsuit that prompted a boycott of the Michigan brewery. The brewery issued a pair of "final statements" on Thursday, saying it will no longer comment on the discrimination case. 

"Through recent discussions with Tracy [Evans], we listened, engaged in self-discovery, and reached common ground to make amends," the statement read, signed by co-founders Mike Stevens and Dave Engbers. "We agreed that nobody be viewed at fault here." The company undoubtedly hopes it's the end of a public backlash that started to gain momentum on October 21. 

The suit dates back to August 2018, when Evans, who is black, alleged he faced "a racist internal corporate culture," including the use of a racial slur, while working for the brewery. The story grew in notoriety following a February essay at Beer Kulture calling out beer culture for ignoring the suit and allowing racist actions in the beer industry to continue unchecked. Despite an allegation that the brewery had labeled a management printer the "white guy printer" and a general staff printer the "black guy printer," the company said in March that the details of the case had been "grossly misconstrued."

However, the story broke out of the beer world and become a national story following a Detroit Metro Times story published on October 21. The piece contained a leaked transcript from the deposition. An exchange between Evans' attorney Jack Schulz and Founders' Detroit General Manager Dominic Ryan was particularly damning. The exchange had Ryan repeatedly refusing to answer whether or not he was aware that Evans was black. The manager had even met Evans before working together. 

That spurred backlash that led to the brewery closing its Detroit taproom indefinitely, reports that accounts were refusing to carry Founders products, and its diversity and inclusion director, hired in January 2019, quit. The director, Graci Harkema, posted her two weeks' notice to Twitter and Facebook. "In every conversation and with every action," she wrote, "you are most concerned with the ego of ‘winning’ than you are about the loss of customers, loss of reputation, and loss of employees’ well being."

The company's final statement continued, "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." Details are scarce about how the company plans to regain the trust of those who believe the brewery added insult to injury repeatedly throughout the drawn out process.

"I don't know what happens from here within the doors of Founders Brewing Co.," reads the statement from Evans. "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 '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."

Sign up here for our daily Thrillist email and subscribe here for our YouTube channel to get your fix of the best in food/drink/fun.

Dustin Nelson is a Senior Staff Writer at Thrillist. Follow him @dlukenelson.