Founders Brewing diversity and inclusion director quits

Detroit — With fallout spreading from a discrimination lawsuit against Michigan craft beermaker Founders Brewing Co., the company's diversity and inclusion director said Friday evening she has resigned.

In a Twitter post, Graci Harkema wrote: "'Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.' I greatly appreciate friends and family for being supportive and standing by my side. I have dedicated myself to a life and career of equity, ethics, integrity and morals. I have resigned from Founders Brewing Co."

Founders representatives did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the resignation.

Besides at least a dozen bars and restaurants taking Founders items from their shelves, the Grand Rapids-based company has pulled out of this weekend's Detroit Beer Festival in Eastern Market. 

"As has been reported in recent days, Founders has experienced some challenges at its Detroit taproom," the company said in a statement. "We’re dealing with those challenges, so that we can continue to serve beer lovers in Detroit. To accomplish that, we will be closing the location until further notice."

Founders Brewing Company's Detroit taproom at 456 Charlotte Street.

The Detroit taproom is on Charlotte near Temple streets and Cass Avenue in the city's Midtown District. The company said all of the bar's employees will be paid during the closure, "including those who have said via social media that they plan to protest during this closure, to call attention to concerns."

MoreFounders Brewing Co. pulls out of Detroit Fall Beer Festival amid backlash

Officials said the company is committed to working with its employees to make changes that ensure a positive future.

The decision will also delay next month's debut of a stout in Detroit, the company said. 

"Unfortunately, this temporary closure is affecting the debut of our popular CBS," the statement said. "The CBS bottle pickup and CBS tapping party won’t be happening, as scheduled at the Detroit taproom.

"... We will be issuing full refunds to all CBS bottle ticket holders as soon as possible. To be clear, the CBS bottle release will go on as planned at the Grand Rapids taproom."

MoreDetails of deposition related to racial discrimination lawsuit against Founders Brewing Co. goes public

Ex-employee says co-workers used N-word

In a lawsuit filed last year, former employee Tracy Evans, who is African American, accuses Founders of racial discrimination. 

Evans started his employment in 2013 as a packing machine operator at the craft beer giant's Grand Rapids facility. According to the lawsuit, Evans says he was passed up for promotions that went to white co-workers who hadn't been at the company as long. He also claims he received harsher discipline than white workers for tardiness. 

Evans stated in the case that Founders' Grand Rapids offices had two printers that were labeled "white guy printer" and "black guy printer." 

In fall 2017, Evans requested and received a lateral transfer to the Detroit taproom, which opened that year. He said before moving, an employee asked him, "What's up with Detroit, my (N-word)?" Evans said he complained to human resources about the employee's use of the N-word, but the employee was not terminated. 

The lawsuit goes on to detail other alleged uses of the N-word and other racist comments Evans says he heard while working at the Detroit taproom. 

Evans' suit alleges he was fired in 2018 after he told his supervisor he was going to meet with human resources to discuss how he was treated and other ongoing issues.  

Evans declined to comment on Friday.

Taproom manager challenged with race questions

Not until this week, when pages from a deposition related to the case were leaked to the media, was there a strong call from the public to boycott Founders. 

In a portion of the deposition sent to The Detroit News and other media outlets, Founders’ Detroit taproom manager Dominic Ryan was quoted as saying he is “not sure of” of Evans’ “lineage.” 

Ryan was asked if he was aware that Evans was a person of color. 

“What do you mean by that,” Ryan responded. When asked if he knew what a white person was versus a black person, he asked if Evans' lawyer, Jack Schulz, could “clarify that for me.” 

When asked if former President Barack Obama was black, Ryan responded by saying he “never met” Obama. When asked if former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick was black, Ryan responded: “I don’t know.”

Founders President Dave Engbers told WWJ-AM (950) Friday morning that Ryan is still employed by the company but has been removed from his position at the Detroit location. 

The details of the deposition were reported this week throughout the nation, including in Newsweek, the Washington Post and the Chicago Tribune. 

Boy #86Founders movement grows

These comments led to more publicity for the racial discrimination case. A cascade of bars and restaurants in Metro Detroit announced this week they would be pulling Founders' beers. 

"We’re a socially conscious company. We can’t support what’s going on with that situation," said bar manager Brent Foster of downtown Detroit cocktail bars Standby and the Skip. He said they would be getting refunds for the product from the distributor. 

Bars and restaurants outside of Detroit have also vowed not to sell or re-order Founders' products, including Chicago's Hopleaf Bar and Wisconsin bar Drunk Uncle, according to reports. The Basement in Toledo also joined the #86Founders movement. 

Other forms of protest were planned by the Founders employees themselves. A flier has been circulating and was sent to The News detailing a "peaceful protest" planned for 11 a.m. Saturday at Founders Detroit Taproom. 

Printed on the one-page flier: "Join Founders Detroit employees in a peaceful protest to address discrimination against minorities/LGBTQ+/women in the workforce. We are committed to the community and here to set things straight."

Matthew Buskard, owner of three Bobcat Bonnie's restaurants in Metro Detroit, said on Facebook Friday that any employees of Founders Detroit Taproom who need work during the closure can come to his restaurants. 

"We always need folks, and right now, their staff needs some love," he said, adding Bobcat Bonnie's would offer a drink or meal for any displaced Founders employee from the Detroit Taproom. He's also hiring for all positions. 

Co-founders Engbers and Mike Stevens opened Founders, one of Michigan's top craft breweries, in the Grand Rapids area in 1997. According to reports, as of this year, Founders is largely owned by Spanish company Mahou-San Miguel Group.

Staff Writer Mark Hicks contributed.