Ex-employee files sexual-discrimination lawsuit against Midland Brewing Co.

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

A former employee of a mid-Michigan craft brewery has filed a discrimination lawsuit that claims he was fired after he refused to change his appearance and hide his relationship with his partner, court documents show.

Midland resident Ryan Boshaw filed the lawsuit Thursday against Midland Brewing Company, citing sexual discrimination, at-work harassment, retaliation and wrongful termination, according to the lawsuit.

Midland Brewing Company, 5011 N. Saginaw Road in Midland.

Boshaw was hired as a server in May 2018 and was moved to an hourly manager position in September 2018.

Boshaw is an openly gay man with a longtime partner, according to the suit.

His supervisor allegedly spoke to Boshaw and said the owner was considering moving him to salary. The supervisor allegedly suggested he remove his relationship status from his Facebook page, remove visible piercings, and style his hair differently to appease the owner, according to the lawsuit.

Boshaw states the comments were made to suggest he appear more "stereotypically masculine" for the company's brand.

The brewery prides itself on honoring the legacy of Michigan "lumberjacks, railroaders, brewers (ok and chemists too); Sturdy men with big beards and tough women who didn’t take any guff," according to its website.

Midland Brewing officials were not immediately available for comment Thursday.

Boshaw stated he followed the instructions and began avoiding any public reference to his status as a gay man or his relationship.

After doing so, he was promoted to the position of the front of the house manager.

However, Boshaw said it started causing problems in his personal life and went above his manager to complain to the owner about what he was told to do for the promotion. Afterward, he stated that his manager began "hyper-scrutinizing" his performance at work and recommended he be fired, which happened in May.

Boshaw's attorney, Collin Nyeholt, said in an interview Boshaw took months to file the lawsuit because "he had to exhaust (Equal Employment Opportunities Commission) remedies before the commission determined a right to sue, which they did."

He could not further comment on the pending sexual orientation lawsuit, but said he is seeing "quite a lot of them."

Earlier this year, Founders Brewing Co. settled a racial discrimination lawsuit that escalated into nationwide press coverage and boycotts. 

The case came under the spotlight after pages from a deposition were sent to the media. In them, a manager for the brewing company avoided questions about the employee’s race and claimed he didn't know President Barack Obama was black because he "never met him."

The Grand Rapids-based brewery closed its Detroit taproom citing safety concerns, but after settling, announced plans to reopen in 2020 with 100% of profits will benefit Detroit charities through 2022.