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

Melody Baetens
The Detroit News

In a deposition leaked this week, a manager for Founders Brewing Co.’s Detroit taproom appeared to dodge questions about the race of a former employee. 

In the lawsuit filed last spring, former promotion and events manager Tracy Evans, who is African-American, accuses the craft beer giant of racial discrimination, retaliation for complaining of racial discrimination and denying a promotion based on race.

Founders Brewing Company's Detroit taproom, at 456 Charlotte Street, opens to the public on Monday.

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

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

“What do you mean by that,” Ryan asked. When asked if 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 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.” 

In response to a Metro Times article published Monday, Founders stated that the company will be filing a motion to dismiss the lawsuit. Founders' attorney Patrick M. Edsenga explains in the statement that the motion will provide proof that "neither Mr. Evans’ race nor retaliation played any part in Founders’ decision to end Mr. Evans’ employment."

"Mr. Evans himself has testified – unequivocally and under oath – that Mr. Ryan is not racist and was his friend; so whatever point Mr. Evans is trying to make by leaking deposition testimony to you is undone by his own words." The statement goes on to say that this testimony is "not Founders' defense in this case" and that Evans was terminated based on his job performance.  

As of Tuesday afternoon, at least one brewery has pulled out of this weekend's Detroit Fall Beer Festival at Eastern Market, organized by the Michigan Brewers Guild. 

Eastern Market Brewery Company posted a statement to social media Monday explaining that the small brewery will not participate this weekend because the owners "do not believe Founders deserves to be present."

"Whether or not a Founders' employee was fired because of the color of his skin does not change the fact he was made to feel uncomfortable in their workplace," reads the statement. 

Eastern Market Brewing's co-owner Dayne Bartscht clarified with a second statement Tuesday, adding that he spoke to both Evans and employees of Founders before making the decision to remove themselves from the annual festival. 

Detroit cocktail bars the Skip and Standby have taken Founders' beer off their menus, an employee confirmed to The Detroit News Tuesday. 

"We will be getting refunds on our unused products from Rave Distribution," said Standby bar manager Brent Foster. "We’re a socially conscious company. We can’t support what’s going on with that situation."

The contents of the leaked deposition made national news this week with stories in the Washington Post and Newsweek

Founders, Michigan's largest craft brewery, opened in Grand Rapids more than 20 years ago, and in 2017 debuted its 14,000-square-foot taproom in Detroit's Cass Corridor. 

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Twitter: @melodybaetens