Tracy Evans says Founders Brewing Co. need to see for themselves and make serious cultural changes.

Dave Engbers, co-founder and president of Founders, says the culture it needs has been in place for all its 22 years.

Tracy Evans. (Photo: Leigh Ann Cobb)

The racial discrimination lawsuit Evans filed a crescendo last week against his former employer and Michigan's largest brewery, starting with a leaky deposition that made national headlines Monday and continued Friday with the popular Founders Detroit taproom closed "for now", creating shock waves felt far outside of Michigan's dedicated craft beer community.

When Evans and his lawyer, Jack Schulz, spent time on WDET's airwaves Friday afternoon to discuss the matter, Engbers opened to Free Press about the violent week. He also talked about where the Grand Rapids-based brewery is headed, reiterating several times that Evans & # 39; s allegations are unfounded, that Founders is confident it will prevail in the case and maintains that Founders & # 39; principles have remained strong since its opening in 1997.

Dave Engbers: & # 39; None of us are perfect & # 39;

The drama ignited Monday, when the Detroit Metro Times first revealed a leaked print of a deposition in which Founders Detroit general manager Dominic Ryan, who fired Evans last year, would not say if he knew Evans is black. He also said he does not know if Barack Obama, Michael Jordan or Kwame Kilpatrick are black because he has never "met" them.

Engbers said "we were reluctant" to see the deposit leak.

Founders Brewing Co. Dave Engbers, left, and Mike Stevens are pictured at 456 Charlotte Street in Detroit, where a brewery and taproom is scheduled to open in winter 2017. (Photo: Founders Brewing Co.)

"We are very confident in the matter ours; it's well documented, "he said. "They're going to social media to see if they can escalate this. And it worked. … It's a hot topic right now. And it's easy for people to read the headline and not read the article to see the substance behind it. [19659008] "We know that Tracy Evans is African American. We have always known that. I think what we had was a child who was deposited for hours and hours of deposition and told not to answer anything unless he was completely sure. "

When the landfill was covered locally by Detroit Free Press and others, and when there were national headlines from the Washington Post to Newsweek, the founders remained silent. The main social media reports had been dormant since Monday afternoon, when it responded to the Metro Times with a statement from its attorney which was the Website also became quiet from Monday to Friday morning, when Engbers and co-owner Mike Stevens released a statement.

Meanwhile, Michigan confirmed The Brewers Guild on Wednesday found the founders pulled out of its annual Fall Beer Festival weekend in Detroit's east market.

The founders spent this week "grouping up," Engbers said, admitting that the founders should have handled the communications in a timely manner this week – "we had PR companies tel. I'm not going to say anything, and it doesn't work, not with social media. "But he said Founders remains the same brand as it was in 1997 when it first opened its doors in Grand Rapids.

" Our company has been based on accepting everyone, "he said." Beer is a conduit which brings people together. It ties people together. And it should be positive and should be celebrated. "

Stainless steel brewing tanks can be viewed from the Founders beer garden Brewing Co. Detroit taproom on Friday, December 1, 2017. (Photo: Mandi Wright, Detroit Free Press)

However, in the lawsuit, Evans argues that the founders tolerated a "racist internal corporate culture," He went on for promotions because he is black and that two printers at the Grand Rapids site were electronically labeled as the "white guy printer" and "black guy printer. "The founders have denied these allegations, although they admitted in their response to Evans's lawsuit that two employees used the N word around Evans and were not immediately fired.

Engbers said 18% of Founders & # 39; 600 plus employees identify themselves as non-Caucasian: "We celebrate people from all different backgrounds and ethnicities." When asked how many minorities are part of the founding leadership, he said he did not know.

Since the lawsuit was filed last fall, entrepreneur Graci Harkema hired as Director of Diversity and Inclusion in January, and told customers on social media a month later that staff were undergoing "sensitivity training."

Engbers said that most of the staff have completed that sensitivity training, and have also conducted "unconscious bias training, diversity training, inclusion training, authenticity training, LHBTQ and gender identity training" and that once a month we have (diversity and inclusion) training for new employee orientation. "

When it comes to the local Grand Rapids and Detroit environments, Engbers Founders said looks at community collaboration and will focus on collaborating" with the right groups . "He said there would be an announcement soon.

"We continue to work for social rights in this state," he said.

Meanwhile, Dominic Ryan, the boss at the center of the leaky landfill, is still employed by the founders, Engbers said, though he was "removed from his duties" at the Detroit taproom and takes time to move on. Engbers also confirmed that one of the employees who used the N-word around Evans is still with the company.

"None of us are perfect," Engbers said. "We all make mistakes. This employee was talked to, and we used this as a learning opportunity."

Tracy Evans: & # 39; It was a mess & # 39;

Evans did not respond to Free Press & # 39; comment requests. But he showed up at WDET's "Culture Shift" with his lawyer, Jack Schulz, on Friday to talk about the lawsuit and what happened this week.

Evans, formerly an entrepreneur in Grand Rapids, came to Detroit as an event and promotion leader when the second taproom opened in December 2017. He hoped for a chance not just with the Founders, but to make an impact in Michigan's largest city.

The Gift Shop at Founders Brewing Co. Detroit taproom Friday 1. December 2017. (Photo: Mandi Wright, Mandi Wright, Detroit Free Press)

Instead? "It was a mess."

"Nothing went according to plan," Evans told WDET. "And I think the pressure fell on a lot of people, and that things fell through the cracks, so there was never any kind of leadership or guidance in what to do and do these right things. Not excusable at all.

" It things happened that should not have happened … proper action was not taken for these things. And here we are. "

But Engbers and Founders have insisted that Evans" was given every opportunity to succeed at Founders. "

Evans paints another picture of how he was treated. In the lawsuit, Evans claims he was retaliated for filing human resources complaints about racial behavior by employees, including the N-word used several times around him. The founders have stated that Evans was fired for performance reasons.

Evans said it was his mother who asked him to "use my voice" which led to him filing the lawsuit several months after the shooting.

"Most people, and especially most colors, will tell you that they don't have the idea that & # 39; If I just come out and say I was discriminated against, & # 39; it's going to work and people are going to believe me and justice will do anything, & # 39; said Evans. & # 39; I saw this as a chance for me to actually use my voice and tell my story, and help others and actually receive some kind of justice. "[19659042] Founders Brewing Co. co-founder Dave Engbers of Grand" width = "540" data-mycapture-src = " DetroitFreePress / 636479742233144599-Founders-120117-02-MW.jpg "data-mycapture-sm-src ="×333/local /2017/12/04/DetroitFreeP/DetroitFreePress/636479742233144599-Founders-120117-02-MW.jpg"/>

Founders Brewing Co. co-founder Dave Engbers of Grand Rapids opens the door to his wife Amy Engbers at the tap show in Detroit Friday 1. December 2017. (Photo: Mandi Wright, Detroit Free Press)