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Founders Brewing Co. facing criticism over leaked deposition in racial discrimination suit

Posted: 1:34 PM, Oct 22, 2019
Updated: 2019-10-31 16:11:20-04
Founders Brewing Company opening Detroit taproom on Dec. 4

(WXYZ) — UPDATE: Founders Brewing Co. and Tracy Evans have reached a settlement in the racial discrimination lawsuit

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Original story below:

Founders Brewing Company is facing controversy over a leaked deposition relating to a racial discrimination lawsuit.

In the deposition, the brewery's general manager for the Detroit taproom claimed he didn't know the man who is suing the brewery is black.

Tracy Evans filed the lawsuit last October. He was the events and promotions manager for Founders' locations in Grand Rapids and Detroit. He said he was the only minority manager at Founders, and said co-workers used racial slurs around him and other employees.

According to the lawsuit, Evans said he complained to HR, and was eventually let go after trying to take a personal day to speak to Human Resources in Grand Rapids.

In the leaked deposition, Evans' Attorney, Jack Schulz, asked Founders' Manager Dominic Ryan, "Are you aware Tracy is African American?"

Ryan allegedly responded, according to the leaked deposition, "I'm not sure of his lineage so I can't answer that."

Later on in the deposition, Schulz asked, "I guess your testimony is you have no idea if Tracy is a minority, if he's African-American?"

"I don't know Tracy's lineage, so I can't speculate on whether he's...if he's from African or not," Ryan is alleged to have responded.

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Founders responded through its attorney, saying in part, "neither Mr. Evans' race nor retaliation played any part in Founders' decision to end Mr. Evans' employment." You can read the full statement below:

Please see below for a full statement regarding the recent Detroit Metro Times article provided by our legal counsel. The author chose not to include our full statement and, as a result, we are opting to share it with you.

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

Founders admitted in its response to the lawsuit that one of its employees made a racial slur to Evans in 2017. After Evans reported the employee to Human Resources, the employee continued to work for Founders with Evans, according to the response. Founders claimed in its response that Evans told them he didn't want the employee to be fired, and later argued that the employee was given a disciplinary action.

After the deposition leaked, Eastern Market Brewing Co. announced it will not be participating in the Michigan Brewers Guild Detroit Fall Beer Festival because it "does not believe Founders deserves to be present.: The brewing company said, in part, "Whether or not a Founders' employee was fired because of the color of his skin does not change the fact he was made to feel uncomfortable in their workplace. It also does not change the fact Founders has not publicly acknowledged wrongdoing."