Modern Times Founder Jacob McKean Resigns From CEO Role Amid Allegations of a Toxic Work Environment

Jacob McKean, the founder and CEO of Modern Times, has resigned from his role after the San Diego craft brewery was named several times as a hostile workplace on a social media account that began sharing industry employees’ experiences of widespread sexism in the beer industry.

“I am stepping down from my role as CEO, and we will begin a formal search for new company leadership,” McKean wrote in a blog post on Modern Times’ website and shared on the brewery’s social media accounts at 10 p.m. ET Tuesday. “In order to navigate us out of this extremely difficult moment, we need leadership with the skill and experience to handle it effectively. It’s time for a change.”

McKean’s resignation comes as part of a reckoning sweeping through the craft beer industry that began on May 11 when industry employees — mostly women — began sharing their experiences of workplace discrimination and allegations of sexual harassment and assault with Brienne Allan, production manager for Salem, Massachusetts-based Notch Brewing, who then posted them as stories to her Instagram account, “@ratmagnet.”

Modern Times was mentioned in nearly a dozen stories shared by Allan. Many of those accounts described a toxic workplace rife with favoritism and harassment — and indifference from management.

“I used to work at MT and it’s the ultimate gaslighting,” one anonymous former employee shared with Allan. “I knew of 10-plus people who submitted complaints about an extremely toxic work environment and they were completely ignored by HR.”

Those who complained about conditions “faced retaliation in scheduling and promotion,” according to another block of texts shared by Allan.

“We have been scared to speak up,” the person wrote. “Though these issues are not related to sexism or racism directly, the problem is that we don’t trust MT as a whole to deal with these issues.”

Several of the posters recounted McKean responding insensitively to an internal discussion about antiracism last summer after the killing of George Floyd. McKean described the incident in his blog post, noting that he “left the door open indefinitely for future dialogue on the subject.”

“About a year ago, I had a contentious interaction with an employee via Slack that badly missed the mark,” McKean wrote. “It was a personal and professional failure, and I take full accountability for that. A brave group of MT employees helped me see how I had come up short, which allowed me to overcome my defensiveness around this interaction. I spoke directly to the employee involved, and I apologized personally and profusely.”

On Tuesday, the company dismissed former “league coordinator” Derek Freese after he was named in several stories for inappropriate behavior. McKean noted that the company’s investigation into that behavior is closed, but Modern Times is “continuing to work through the next steps in order to take additional action as needed.”

Freese’s dismissal came as the Oakland Modern Times staff said they would “not be pouring beer … until we feel that company leadership acts in a way that aligns with our personal values of inclusion and equality, and that appropriate actions and measures are put in place to prevent further discrimination and harassment.”

In addition to McKean’s resignation and Freese’s termination, McKean laid out the company’s intended next steps. McKean wrote that Modern Times will be “changing our reporting procedures for harassment from an internal process to an external, anonymous, third-party process.”

“It is now incredibly obvious that the process we have had for reporting harassment has not made people feel safe,” he wrote.

Modern Times will also be “conducting bystander training and enhanced anti-harassment training for all-staff, in addition to the current biennial sexual harassment training,” and prioritizing the hiring of a diversity, equity and inclusion manager.

“Clearly, we are in over our heads here, and we need help and expertise,” McKean worte. “This is in addition to the deeper focus on training and education mentioned above, including our upcoming anti-oppression training, not in place of it.”

Earlier on Tuesday, Modern Times president and chief operating officer Chris Sarette penned a blog post titled “The Work Ahead” detailing the company’s plans for employee resource groups and anti-racism and anti-oppression training for staff. Sarette directed “anyone not currently working at Modern Times” who wants to report harassment to email the brewery’s general counsel David Israel.

“He will partner with a third-party investigator as needed depending on the nature and scope of a report,” Sarette wrote.

McKean founded Modern Times in 2013. The company has grown to include seven taprooms in California and one in Portland, Oregon. Its beer is distributed in 11 states. In 2020, it ranked 40th on the Brewers Association’s (BA) list of the country’s top 50 craft breweries by volume.

Modern Times implemented an employee stock option plan in 2017 that gave workers a 30% share of the company. McKean retained a majority stake in the business and according to financial information shared during a 2019 investment raise on WeFunder, retained 50.5% of the company’s voting stock. It is unclear what McKean’s resignation means, if anything, for his ownership stake in the business.

The company, which produced 70,150 barrels of beer in 2019 according to the most recent data available from the BA, is named for a “utopian community built on Long Island in 1850,” according to Modern Times’ website. The residents of that Modern Times — present day Brentwood, New York — “bartered, lived without a state, sometimes ignored the conventions of marriage (although probably not in the super hot way you’re imagining), and generally experimented with creating a less exploitative, more pleasurable world,” according to the web site.

“I also appreciate what the colonists were trying to achieve for themselves: to live, right now, in a world of enterprising, fulfilling hedonism,” the company web copy continued. “Hopefully, Modern Times Beer will be one of those little pockets too.”