After several accounts of sexual harassment at Worcester, Massachusetts-based Wormtown Brewery surfaced on social media in recent days, nearly all members of its ownership group have stepped down from their day-to-day roles in the company, with the exception of co-founder and brewmaster Ben Roesch, the brewery announced late Thursday.
“Over the past few days, a number of Wormtown employees have shared stories or posts on Instagram describing instances of harassing and discriminatory behaviors by various members of our organization,” Wormtown general manager Scott Metzger wrote in an internal message shared on the brewery’s website. “What we read was disturbing and heartbreaking.”
In a social media post, the company wrote: “That any member of our team may have experienced the harassment and discrimination described, is not acceptable. We are committed to the standard of a workplace where all employees thrive in an equitable environment.”
Speaking to Brewbound, Metzger said he was “devastated by some of the things that I have come to learn.”
Wormtown managing partner David Fields, as well as partners CFO Kary Shumway and Rich and Jay “Digger” Clarke, have stepped away from the daily operations of the business. While the Clarkes did not have official positions within the company, they and co-owners and other leaders met weekly to discuss “strategy and direction” for the brewery, Metzger said.
“A dramatic change was needed in the organization,” Metzger said. “By them stepping back, that provides the room for such dramatic change to occur.”
According to MassLive, only Jay “Digger” Clarke is mentioned by name as engaging in inappropriate behavior — including “berating female department managers, having female employees drive him home or to hotels when he’s intoxicated and pressuring three female employees to go to a strip club with him” — in the accounts shared with Notch Brewing production manager Brienne Allan, who has shared stories of misconduct and misogyny in the beer industry on her Instagram account (@ratmagnet) for more than two weeks.
Metzger explained that the ownership group’s decision to step away was taken together to indicate they have “collectively taken responsibility.”
Moving forward, Roesch, while retaining his ownership stake, will report to Metzger as an employee.
A not-yet-formed advisory group made up of individuals of diverse professional skill sets and backgrounds will serve as the intermediary between Metzger and the ownership group to “provide an extra layer of guidance.”
Metzger, the founder of Texas’ Freetail Brewing and founding chair of the Brewers Association’s Diversity Committee, joined Wormtown in September 2019.
Fields told Brewbound that now is the right time for the ownership group “to take a step back and let [Metzger] and the team that he works with every day make that brewery amazing.”
“It was devastating to hear the concerns of our team,” Fields added in a statement. “My No. 1 job is to make sure our team loves their jobs, and it was clear to me that in some way I failed them in that effort.
“I will always be there for them but just in a different capacity that provides me a better work-life balance as well,” he continued.
Wormtown is in the process of investigating the allegations and will “take corrective disciplinary action with any individual reported to us to have engaged in unacceptable conduct in the workplace.” It is also reviewing company policies and procedures based on recommendations of its “brewery family members,” and will be implementing mandatory training on diversity, equity and inclusion for all employees, with enhanced training for supervisors. Additionally, Wormtown is evaluating its internal and external HR options.
The company deputized director of sales and marketing Katrina Shabo to lead a committee to “make recommendations on improving workplace culture” when beer industry employees — mostly women — began sharing their experiences of sexual harassment, discrimination and assault.
An employee wrote that sexual harassment was “a routine occurrence” and that one offender was warned but “continued to harass other women in the company with no repercussions.”Other employees shared with Allan that they had little faith in Wormtown’s “boys club to hold themselves accountable for their own infractions.”
Thus far, employees have been receptive to the changes, Metzger said. However, he acknowledged that the company still has “a long way to go.”
Wormtown isn’t the only craft brewery to force its owners out of active daily roles since Allan began sharing women’s accounts of sexual harassment on May 11. San Diego-based Modern Times founder and CEO Jacob McKean stepped down from his leadership role on May 18. Jean Broillet, co-founder of Ardmore, Pennsylvania-based Tired Hands Brewing Company, stepped away from day-to-day operations also on May 18.
Wormtown was founded in 2010 and has grown to 60 employees and two taprooms.