Founders drops out of Detroit beer festival amid racial discrimination lawsuit, backlash

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Founders Brewing Co. has pulled out of this weekend’s Detroit Fall Beer Festival, one of the state’s biggest all-local-beer tasting events, amid backlash surrounding a racial discrimination lawsuit.

The Grand Rapids-based brewery with a taproom in Detroit is no longer among the more than 125 Michigan breweries participating in the annual Michigan Brewers Guild event set for Friday and Saturday in Eastern Market, guild representative Dianna Stampfler confirmed in an email to Crain’s.

“Occasionally we have brewery members drop out of a festival, and while that is unfortunate, the celebration this weekend will be about all the great Michigan breweries and beers that are present,” Stampfler said in the statement.

Controversy has ensued this week following a Monday Detroit Metro Times report involving a racial discrimination lawsuit brought by former Founders employee Tracy Evans, which was filed last year against the popular brewery. Metro Times first obtained and reported on a deposition in which a manager reportedly claimed he did not know Evans is black. Founders responded to the article Monday on its website, saying there is no evidence to support Evans’ claims.

Crain’s left messages seeking comment with Evans’ attorney and a Founders representative.

The incident has received national attention, including in the Washington Post.

The report and lawsuit have set off reactions from some local businesses:

Eastern Market Brewing Co. said Monday it would pull out of the Detroit Fall Beer Festival because “we do not believe Founders deserves to be present.”

“Since the news broke about the racial discrimination case against Founders, it has been a topic of conversation amongst our team,” Dayne Bartscht, managing partner, said in a Facebook post. “We got to know Tracy (Evans) and we listened to his story … While Founders may have a taproom in Detroit, they do not represent the diverse community that is the city of Detroit.”

The Skip and Standby, two downtown Detroit bars, pulled Founders products from their menus Tuesday, according to owner Joe Robinson.

“We understand that our vote is with our dollar and we want to spend that dollar with companies who operate with integrity and champion their community and their employees,” he said in an email.

Bobcat Bonnie’s, a gastropub with locations in Corktown Detroit, Ferndale, Wyandotte and Ypsilanti, has also pulled Founders from its roster, owner Matt Buskard confirmed.

8 Degrees Plato, a Detroit bar and beer retailer, said in a Facebook post that it will sell the Founders products it has and then carry no more until “the current situation resolves itself in a positive outcome.” Owner Tim Costello declined to comment further.

Founders Brewing is the second biggest Michigan brewery by in-state beer sales, following Bell’s Brewery of Kalamazoo, Crain’s reported in August. Founders recently announced it is selling a majority stake to Spanish brewer Mahou-San Miguel Group.

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