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Founders drops out of Detroit Beer Festival amid racial discrimination lawsuit

Tracy Evans, who served as an events and promotions manager at Founders in both Grand Rapids and Detroit, filed the case last October in the U.S. District Court.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Controversy continues to surround Founders Brewing Company as it fights a racial discrimination lawsuit filed against the company by a former employee.

The brewery dropped out of the Michigan Brewers Guilds' Detroit Fall Beer Festival this week. News broke of the decision shortly after Eastern Market Brewing Company announced it would not be attending the festival because "[they] do not believe Founders deserves to be present."

In a statement, the Michigan Brewers Guild said, "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."

Eastern Market cites an ongoing racial discrimination lawsuit and leaked deposition file as its reason for speaking out.

Tracy Evans, who served as an events and promotions manager at Founders in both Grand Rapids and Detroit, filed the case last October in the U.S. District Court. 

The lawsuit named Evans as the only minority manager at Founders, reading "To Plaintiff’s dismay, his coworkers used racial slurs around him and with other employees. In fact, the company itself named its printers in a blatantly racist fashion." 

In the documents, Evans said his coworkers used racial slurs around him and with other employees, adding that he was let go from the brewery after he tried to take a personal day to speak to Human Resources in Grand Rapids.

In a statement to WXYZ, Founders said the allegations of unlawful conduct in Evans' lawsuit were "baseless."

"Founders is a company that is built on diversity and its culture is the result of a great mixture of people who treat each other with respect. Founders will vigorously defend itself against these claims and is confident that it will prevail," said Patrick Edsenga in a statement made for Founders. 

This week the Detroit Metro Times published the leaked deposition from the case between Evans' Attorney, Jack Schulz, and Founders' Manager Dominic Ryan.

In the deposition, Schulz asks Ryan, who has met Evans a few times, if he knew Evans is African American. Ryan replied, "I'm not sure of his lineage so I can't answer that." 

As the discussion carried on, Ryan continued to ask for clarification when asked if he knew Evans was "black" or "a man of color," prompting Schulz to ask, "So you don’t know if Barack Obama is Black? What about Michael Jordan? Do you know if Michael Jordan is Black?"

Ryan replied, "I’ve never met him."

The full deposition transcript can be found here.

Amid controversy surrounding the leaked document, Founders' attorney, Patrick Edsenga, responded on the companies behalf, saying:

Mr. Perkins,

Thank you for reaching out to Founders before publishing your column. Founders will soon be providing its full response to Mr. Evans’ claims when it files a motion to dismiss the case in its entirety.  This motion will include documentary proof that neither Mr. Evans’ race nor retaliation played any part in Founders’ decision to end Mr. Evans’ employment.  I would ask that you reserve judgment or comment on this case until you actually see the evidence presented by the parties.

In the event that you will not, I understand that a person unfamiliar with most of the facts in this case, and a person unfamiliar with the obligations that individuals are under when they give deposition testimony, might perceive Mr. Ryan’s statement as noteworthy.  It is not.  First, as I doubt you’re aware, Mr. Evans himself has testified – unequivocally and under oath – that Mr. Ryan is not racist and was his friend; so whatever point Mr. Evans is trying to make by leaking deposition testimony to you is undone by his own words.  Second, this testimony is not Founders’ defense in this case as you allege.  Founders evaluated and decided to terminate Mr. Evans based only on his job performance.  Mr. Evans’ poor job performance will be apparent when Founders files its upcoming motion.  Third, through this testimony, Mr. Ryan was simply saying that he does not assume anything about individuals’ race or ethnicity unless they tell him that information.  While it might be acceptable to speculate about this type of thing in casual conversation, Mr. Ryan was not having a casual conversation.  He was under oath when he made these statements.  As all deponents are instructed, Mr. Ryan was directed not to guess, assume or speculate in his deposition.  This is the reason for his answer.

The fact that Mr. Evans is selectively leaking this type of information to you indicates that, unlike Founders, he has no evidence to support his position in this case. Founders looks forward to its day in court, and, now that discovery has closed, it is more confident than ever that it will prevail.

Patrick M. Edsenga
Attorney at Law
Miller Johnson

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