Founders rolls out new plan after discrimination lawsuit

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — It’s been almost three months since Founders Brewing Co. closed its Detroit taproom following a lawsuit alleging racial discrimination by a former employee. 

There were protests, and the director of diversity and inclusion quit. The suit was settled outside of court but still left a bad taste in many people’s mouths.

Founders has been busy since leaving the headlines, shifting some of its focus from beer to improving diversity, equity and inclusion in the company.

“We knew that we had to put a program together that had systems and that we could follow these systems. And when you have systems, you have success,” said Founders Brewing Co. President and Co-Founder Dave Engbers. 

Much like the system in place to roll out a new beer, diversity, equity and inclusion now has a process at Founders.

The brewery hired Detroit based Buzz Thomas as the interim director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

Global Bridgebuilders, a consulting firm that specializes on the topic was also hired. Skot Welch is the president of the Grand Rapids based firm.

“We want the total voice of the organization at the table,” Welch said.

The big complaint from the last diversity director was that she wasn’t being heard and that Founders was slow to respond to concerning culture and/or perceptions.

Since then, Founders says the company implemented a four-phase plan.

The plan starts with an assessment, then a focus groups, next training and finally the creation of a diversity action council. Founders is currently in the 2nd phase.

“This isn’t going to be a short-term fix and this isn’t going to be a one-off. This is a part of the business going forward,” Thomas said.

Founders says it’s a metric driven system. The brewery feels it will lead to a better working environment and end product.

“The beer that we make now is great, but the beer that we make a year from now is going to be better,” Engbers said. 

The Detroit taproom remains closed. Founders says an announcement will be made soon with an opening date.

The brewery has promised to give proceeds to Detroit area charities.