Founders Brewing and Tracy Evans Reach Settlement in Racial Discrimination Lawsuit

Founders Brewing Company and former employee Tracy Evans announced Thursday they have agreed to settle the racial discrimination lawsuit against the Grand Rapids, Michigan-based craft brewery.

Terms of the settlement were not disclosed, and the lawsuit has been dismissed, according to a joint statement shared by the company’s communications manager.

“I want the world to know the power we have when we step forward and make ourselves heard,” Evans said in his statement. “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.”

Evans, who is black, filed a racial discrimination lawsuit against Founders in August 2018, alleging that the craft brewery tolerated a “racist internal corporate culture.”

Founders co-founders Dave Engbers and Mike Stevens wrote in their statement that they 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,” they wrote. “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.”

Engbers and Stevens wrote that they are “committed to moving the cause of diversity and inclusion forward for Founders.”

“We want every employee to feel valued, respected and safe,” they wrote. “We abhor discriminatory action of any type and believe that beer should bring people together and not divide.”

Evans added that he doesn’t know Engbers and Stevens’ future plans, “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,” he added. “Founders as a whole made some bad choices. I, as an individual made some mistakes but on this day we look to move forward.”

A Founders spokesperson said the company will not comment on the case beyond the statement.

The settlement comes nearly a week after Founders announced plans to shutter its Detroit taproom as backlash against the company grew following the leak of a deposition in the case. Engbers and Stevens said in a statement that they are “currently evaluating the situation with hopes to open the Detroit taproom as soon as possible.”

In that deposition, published first by the Detroit Metro Times on October 21, Dominic Ryan, the general manager of Founders’ Detroit taproom, declined to acknowledge whether Evans and several prominent African Americans, are black. Engbers and Stevens also issued an apology letter to their 600-person staff. The company also relieved Ryan of his duties in Detroit and placed him on a paid leave of absence.

Also on Friday, Founders diversity and inclusion director, Graci Harkema, announced her resignation from the company after about 10 months, citing the company’s leadership team repeatedly ignoring her advice.

According to the lawsuit, multiple Founders employees used racial slurs around Evans, who filed an official complaint with the company’s human resources department in the fall of 2017. Evans expressed his frustrations to management that the employees involved continued to make racist comments and had planned to use a personal day on June 1, 2018, to travel to Grand Rapids to make a second formal complaint to human resources. He postponed that day in order to meet with his manager to discuss a project.

Evans was informed of his termination on June 5, 2018, which the company said was due to poor performance.

When asked how he could be expected to thrive in an environment which he felt was hostile, Engbers told Brewbound that he believed Evans was satisfied with the human resources department’s handling of his complaint.

“As soon as we found out about it, it was dealt with, but we do not condone it at all. The only reason Tracy was let go was due to his performance,” Engbers said.

Read both statements in their entirety after the jump.

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