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Okemos bar stops selling Founders amid racial discrimination lawsuit 

Why a small-town bar is blocking one of the largest breweries in the state 

Brent Forsberg, a customer of Henry's Place, recorded a waitress as she poured out 10, 99-cent glasses of Founders beer Friday, Oct. 25.
COURTESY
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THURSDAY, Oct. 30 — What does a sports bar with a diverse set of employees do when a supplier is tied up in a racial discrimination lawsuit? It’s simple, said Henry Kwok, general manager of Henry’s Place in Okemos. Act swiftly. 

Last Friday, Henry’s Place announced on Facebook that all 10-ounce glasses of Founders beer would be on special until they finish the kegs. The decision was made in response to Founders Brewing Co. making national headlines in a racial discrimination lawsuit made public last week. The Detroit alt-weekly Metro Times published transcripts from a court deposition where management clumsily diverted the issue of race in federal court. 

 “I felt that it was right as a business who hires minorities,” said Kwok. “After we announced it, it was gone in a day.” 

One customer ordered 10 glasses of Founders only to have the bartender pour them all out.  

The plaintiff, Tracy Evans, who is black, had worked at both the Founders Grand Rapids and Detroit locations. He alleges the company tolerated a “racist internal corporate structure.”  

Evans was fired from the Detroit location on July 5, 2018 — four days after he had canceled a trip to the Grand Rapids headquarters to file a second formal complaint to human resources. The management at the Detroit location said Evans was fired for poor performance, according to Metro Times. 

During the deposition, the general manager of the Detroit location, Dominic Ryan, said he did not know Evans was black. He also said he did not know whether famous African-American figures, such as former President Barack Obama and basketball star Michael Jordan, were black. Ryan is currently on a paid leave of absence.  

On the same day Henry’s announced they were closing their tap, the company’s Detroit taproom announced it had closed indefinitely. Shortly after, the diversity and inclusion director at Founders, Graci Harkema, who is also black, resigned from the company. In her letter of resignation, she stated the company ignored her advice during the legal proceedings and their actions did not align with her values.  

“Your actions have explicitly shown you are more interested in the optics of my face, than the impact of my voice,” she added. “I have dedicated myself to a life and career of equity, ethics, integrity, and morals. I cannot represent a company that doesn’t stand for the same.” 

Henry’s Place is one of the first bars in the greater Lansing area to pull Founders. However, Kwok said it’s a temporary solution until the lawsuit ends. He hoped the brewery could properly atone for “a lot of missteps.” 

“As a business, when you have negativity with your supplier it makes you look bad,” Kwok said. “As one of the oldest craft beers, I have confidence that they will bounce back, but for now they seem to be scrambling.” 

 

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