A Michigan brewing company has reached a settlement with a Black former employee who said he was fired for bringing to light a culture of racism at the business.
Founders Brewing Co. published both a company statement and one from ex-employee Tracy Evans on its website Thursday.
“I am not going to say too much here,” Evans said, “but I want the world to know the power we have when we step forward and make ourselves heard.”
Evans, one of the first employees of color at the popular brewing company, launched a lawsuit against the business last year, according to The Washington Post.
He said that a co-worker called him the N-word and how the company treated him differently from other employees and even ultimately fired him, the newspaper reported.
The case, however, didn’t trigger boycotts and national backlash until pages from a deposition were leaked to the media last month.
In the document Detroit Metro Times obtained, former general manager Dominic Ryan, a white man, claimed he couldn’t definitively say whether Evans was Black or if President Barack Obama were Black because he “never met him.”
“I don’t know Tracy’s lineage, so I can’t speculate on whether he’s … if he’s from Africa or not,” Ryan said in the deposition.
He had earlier dodged what should have been a simple question.
“OK, are you aware Tracy is Black,” Evans’ attorney, Jack Schulz asked Ryan.
“What do you mean by that,” Ryan responded.
“Are you aware Tracy is African-American,” the lawyer clarified.
“I’m not sure of his lineage so I can’t answer that,” Ryan said.
He was heavily criticized online for the exchange.
“This is definitely some next-level ‘I don’t see color’ white bullshit,” a reader identified only as JMH said in a comment under the Metro Times article.
“It’s a deposition. He’s clearly been coached by his lawyer to avoid this question,” a user identified as Starrival responded.
Founders closed its Detroit taproom indefinitely, fearing for the safety of its workers, according to The Detroit News.
Evans said later in his statement that he doesn’t know what the company plans to change in the future but that “‘seeing color’ and valuing people for who they are” is the mission.
“Founders as a whole made some bad choices,” Evans said. “I, as an individual made some mistakes but on this day we look to move forward.”
Evans went on to apologize to those affected. He said “a company is nothing without its workers,” and he shared a hope that employees would keep watch of how the company behaves moving forward.
“When someone offers to change, as humans we have a few choices and I have made the choice to see what Founders does with the path that they are about to take,” Evans said.
Although both parties agreed details of the settlement would not be revealed, co-founders Mike Stevens and Dave Engbers, both white men, said in their joint statement that they listened to Evans, “engaged in self-discovery, and reached common ground.”
“We agreed that nobody be viewed at fault here,” the founders said. “Most importantly, this serves as an opportunity to place our full attention on the work we now have to do, as a company of more than 600 dedicated team members, to rebuild our relationships.”
The founders also said they are committed to making their company more diverse and inclusive.
“We want every employee to feel valued, respected and safe,” they said. “We abhor discriminatory action of any type and believe that beer should bring people together and not divide.”