Founders Brewing abruptly closes Detroit taproom following new racial discrimination complaint

The announcement was made hours after a former worker alleged an ‘objectively racially hostile’ workplace in U.S. District Court filing

click to enlarge Founders Brewing Co. closed its Detroit taproom. - Shutterstock
Founders Brewing Co. closed its Detroit taproom.

Founders Brewing Co. has permanently closed its Detroit taproom — making the announcement just hours after a former worker filed a new racial discrimination complaint against the company, Metro Times has learned.

In a Facebook post published Monday evening, Founders blamed the closure on sluggish sales.

It is with great sadness that we announce that the Founders Detroit Taproom will be permanently closing its doors today.

Unfortunately, our Detroit location has not been immune to the struggle to regain foot traffic after temporary Covid closures that have impacted restaurants and bars across the nation. We are working diligently to find new positions within the company for employees impacted by this closure.

We would like to thank all of our loyal customers, Mug Clubbers, and friends for your support and business over the years. It has been a great pleasure to serve you.

The Grand Rapids-based company temporarily closed the taproom in 2019 following a Metro Times report that revealed management claimed in a court deposition that it did not know an employee who had filed a racial discrimination complaint was Black. The employee who filed the suit alleged “racist internal corporate culture” at the company, including white employees using the “N word,” leading to calls for a boycott.

Founders settled the case for an undisclosed amount in 2019 and pledged a number of racial sensitivity efforts, including hiring a director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

It then had the misfortune of reopening the Detroit taproom in February 2020 — weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic hit the U.S.

However, it appears that Founders’ DEI efforts were to no avail.

After this article was published, attorney Jack Schulz reached out to Metro Times to tell us that his law firm filed yet another racial discrimination complaint against Founders Brewing Co. in Detroit’s U.S. District Court Eastern District on Monday afternoon. The complaint was filed on behalf of a former worker who left the company last week.

According to the complaint, Naeemah Dillard, who is Black, worked at the Detroit taproom from June 2021 until April 2023, “when the work environment became so objectively racially hostile that she had no choice to resign.”

“Ms. Dillard spoke openly about her racially hostile treatment to Founders during her exit interview last Wednesday,” Schulz tells Metro Times. “It is difficult for me to objectively accept that Founders’ abrupt announcement to permanently close the Detroit taproom mere hours after Dillard’s complaint was filed as being due to COVID-19.”

click to enlarge Founders Brewing Co.’s former Detroit taproom. - Gabe Silver
Gabe Silver
Founders Brewing Co.’s former Detroit taproom.

In her complaint, Dillard alleges she was promoted to an unusual “part-time” management position “for purely optic purposes.” She also alleges other instances of racial discrimination including co-workers intentionally mispronouncing her name and someone telling her that she has “not struggled enough to be Black.”

In another instance, Dillard brought her 6-year-old daughter to work, prompting another manager to tell her to “make sure [she] didn’t steal any money.”

The other managers, all white, had their own “focus areas” like overseeing the taproom’s event space or training employees, according to the complaint, while Dillard did not. She was also the only manager who worked additional shifts as a server, during which times she was compensated as a server, not a manager, the complaint states.

When Dillard reported the incidents to management, she alleges that she received drastically reduced hours as retaliation or was ignored. The complaint also states she worked as a part-time manager for nearly a year without moving up, while white managers were promoted within months.

The complaint also details alleged instances of sexual harassment from a fellow worker. When Dillard complained about the behavior, she says she was ignored. But once a white employee complained about the same behavior from the same worker, the offending worker was fired.

Things were so bad that a white manager also resigned because of the ongoing racial discrimination against Dillard.

In an affidavit, the white manager said that he left the taproom following the 2019 racial discrimination lawsuit, but returned because of the company’s pledges to do better.

“I … was explicitly told by Founders’ leadership at the highest level that there would be changes in culture,” the manager said. “The truth is that it never happened and I feel taken advantage of.”

In another unfortunate coincidence, Founders decided to abruptly close the taproom on May 1, also known as International Workers’ Day.

“Although the complaint was filed on behalf of a single former employee facing racial discrimination, my immediate thoughts are with the large number of employees who were just terminated without any notice or time to prepare,” Schulz says.

We reached out to Founders Brewing Co. for comment. The company’s full statement appears below:

We are deeply saddened and concerned to learn of the recent accusations that have been brought against the Detroit Taproom. We take these claims very seriously, and we are conducting a thorough internal investigation.

Since 2019, we have instituted mandatory bias, discrimination and harassment training throughout our organization. We have reexamined our policies and enacted new policies, along with implementing new procedures for the reporting of workplace concerns.

Closing a business is a difficult decision, and this decision was made after a several year evaluation of the Detroit Taproom’s financial performance that began prior to COVID and was made worse by the pandemic. During the closure of our Detroit facility on Monday, we were unaware of the filing. We announced the closing to all of our Detroit staff on Monday morning, and did not learn about the lawsuit filed against Founders until that evening when a reporter contacted us. As with any closure, there was a lot of work that needed to be done to prepare for the loss of this extension, including redistribution of internal assets, conversations with our landlord and pulling together a comprehensive severance plan, all of which take time.

As to the pending lawsuit, we are sorry that this individual did not have a good experience with us, and to the extent it was due to our actions or inactions that contributed to that, we are deeply sorry.

Location Details

Founders Brewing Co. Detroit

456 Charlotte Street, Detroit Detroit

1 article

This article was updated with news that the closure was announced hours after a second racial discrimination complaint was filed against the company.

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About The Author

Lee DeVito

Leyland “Lee” DeVito is the editor in chief of Detroit Metro Times since 2016. His writing has also been published in Hour Detroit, VICE, In These Times, and New City. He once asked porn star Stormy Daniels to spank him with an issue of Metro Times. She obliged...
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