Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Founders Brewing Co.'s Detroit taproom reopens after racial discrimination controversy

Posted By on Tue, Feb 4, 2020 at 12:38 PM

click to enlarge Founders Brewing Co. closed its Detroit taproom amid a racial discrimination lawsuit. - GABE SILVER
  • Gabe Silver
  • Founders Brewing Co. closed its Detroit taproom amid a racial discrimination lawsuit.

Founders Brewing Co.'s Detroit taproom is set to reopen this week after a contentious racial discrimination lawsuit caused it to close its doors last year.

The taproom is slated to open its doors at 11 a.m. on Thursday, Feb. 6.

The brewery entered the national spotlight when Metro Times published a transcription from the case's deposition, in which management claimed it did not know an employee who had filed a racial discrimination complaint was Black. After calls for boycotts, the company closed the Detroit taproom until further notice.

Ahead of the reopening, the company pledged its commitment to do better.

“After three months of progress behind-the-scenes, now is the best time to honor our commitments in Detroit and reopen the Detroit taproom,” co-founder and CEO Mike Stevens said in a statement. “While our intentions were good when we first launched the taproom in 2017, we need to make more efforts to connect in meaningful ways with the City of Detroit. We’re going to do this right and we look forward to sharing the journey with our fans, community partners and business partners.”

The company hired an outside firm for an independent audit of its practices, and hired former Michigan state senator and representative Buzz Thomas to serve as its interim director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.

“Founders is exhibiting what being a good neighbor is all about,” Interim DEI Director Buzz Thomas, of Detroit-based Thomas Group Consulting, said in a statement. “Since Founders brought me on board last November, I’ve hit the ground running in helping them establish partnerships in Detroit. It’s clear that the employees’ hearts and minds are in the right place. I have no doubt in my mind that their efforts will make a significant impact in the City of Detroit and in the brewing industry by establishing a program that will serve as the model.”

The owners say they will donate the income from the Detroit taproom to local charities for the next three years. It has also partnered with the City of Detroit to hire Detroiters, with a commitment to making jobs more accessible to people with criminal records as well as offering training for Detroit residents to enter the hospitality industry.

The company has also partnered with the National Kidney Foundation of Michigan to provide weekly programming for local residents, including free health screenings and nutrition classes.

“We realize this goes beyond financial donations and we’re committed to becoming a more integral part of the Detroit community,” co-founder and president Dave Engbers said in a statement. “We’re not viewing the Detroit taproom as a profit center but instead as a hub for community engagement with the residents of the city.”

The brewery is set to reopen with a full taplist that features new beer offerings, including “Brewed in Detroit” bottles.

The employee who filed the suit alleged "racist internal corporate culture" at the company, including white employees using the "N word." The company settled the case for an undisclosed amount last year.

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