Founders Responds to Lawsuit Alleging Racial Discrimination

Dear Client:

Founders Brewing Co. co-founders Mike Stevens and Dave Engbers took to their site today to comment on pending litigation brought by a former employee who has accused the company of racial discrimination.

Detroit Metro Times first reported last October that Tracy Evans,  a manager employed at the brewer’s Detroit and Grand Rapids locations, filed suit in Michigan for what he characterized as “a racist internal corporate culture” at Founders, having experienced “blatant” racism numerous times, allegedly unaddressed by superiors. Tracy even depicted a situation with designated  “white guy” and “black guy” printers.

In the ensuing weeks, more outlets picked up the story. Then a popular blog called Beer Kulture weighed in last month with a piece that got a lot of traction on social media.

Now, though advised to keep silent on the issue, the accused brewer pleaded its case today.

“The former employee who brought this lawsuit was loved by the Founders Family and a good friend to many, which is why these claims have rocked us to our core,” per their entry. “We initially chose not to speak out, but in light of recent allegations in the media, we realized that we owe it to our employees, partners, customers, and the general public to share some details of the case. Our silence has created some confusion and we want to set the record straight.”

Founders says it officially encoded its “Founders Family Principles” five years ago. They include “Inclusion, Authenticity, Passion, Family, Diversity, Positivity, Humility, Dedication, Community, and Purposeful Progress.” The principles “guide our decision-making, problem-solving, and all actions for every member of the Founders Family,” brewer says, and notes they are part of the company’s on-boarding process.

It then debunks each claim in the suit: “There are essentially four claims made by the former employee, all of which are false: 1. that no repercussions occurred when racially offensive language was used around the employee; 2. that the employee was passed over for promotion due to his race; 3. that the company electronically named its office printers racially offensive names; and, 4. that the employee was terminated in retaliation for his complaints.” (You can find more detail on their response to the lawsuit here.)

As a sign of their commitment to diversity, the brewer has hired someone to the newly created role of Director of Diversity and Inclusion.

“We believe that as industry leaders we have a responsibility to help drive that essential change,” the blog ended. “We are committed to doing just that.”


Two western Michigan breweries are joining forces.

Gonzo’s BigDogg Brewing out of Kalamazoo will merge with Saugatuck Brewing Company in Douglas, the two companies announced earlier this month.

The merger still needs approval from the Michigan Liquor Control Commission and the TTB. Once they receive the greenlight, Gonzo’s will become Saugatuck Brewing Company – Kalamazoo.

Saugatuck hopes to begin brewing and serving its portfolio at the Kalamazoo facility later this month. While the facility is set to take on the Saugatuck name, some of Gonzo’s popular mainstays, such as their Vanilla Porter, will continue to be served out of the brewpub.

Meanwhile, “operating management” of Gonzo’s will be “transferred” to Saugatuck Brewing, and Gonzo’s 23-person staff will be “welcomed” into the Saugatuck team, per release. Additionally, “the two companies entered into a management contract that will allow shareholders of Gonzo’s to own Saugatuck Brewing stock,” Saugatuck’s VP of marketing Megan Scheerhorn told MLive.

“We’re excited to be entering into this new market and be serving our beers along with other great breweries and craft beer bars in the Kalamazoo area,” Megan said in the release. “This is a great opportunity for us to grow as a company and continue the legacy of making great beer at this location for the people of Kalamazoo.”

Saugatuck distributes 18 different brands across a wide footprint, including Michigan, Ohio, Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Missouri, Florida, New Jersey, Nevada, Tennessee, Nebraska, and several international markets.

As for Gonzo’s, Paul Nowaczyk, a member at the company, said they’re “excited for this opportunity to work with Saugatuck Brewing Company’s marketing team and extensive distribution network throughout the United States and worldwide for a more expansive consumer reach.” Gonzo’s current footprint only includes statewide distribution in Michigan, and the Chicago market.

Until tomorrow,

Jenn, Jordan, and Harry

“Courage is the art of being the only one who knows you’re scared to death.”

– Harold Wilson

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