A month after launching its code of conduct for members, the Brewers Association (BA) shared its complaint and disciplinary process at a town hall on Tuesday.
“We’re interested in creating a process that provides education and self-remediation – we’re not looking to punish, to chop heads off,” said BA board member Wynne Odell, co- founder of Odell Brewing, based in Fort Collins, Colorado. “The idea is that we can take the missteps that people have made and maybe lead them in a better direction.”
Although the disciplinary process focuses on education and mediation, it “allows us to make the ultimate resolution to revoke membership,” Odell said.
The five-step process begins when a member violates the guidelines set out in the code of conduct for behavior in four domains:
- Compliance with the law;
- Respect for the individual and groups;
- Responsible alcohol consumption;
- And responsible alcohol marketing.
Under the section of the code on respect for individuals and groups, the BA specifies that members must “treat all individuals and groups with respect, recognizing their human dignity, regardless of their various human characteristics: race, color , sex, sexual orientation, gender expression, age, physical or mental disability, height or appearance, genetic predisposition, religion, ancestry, national origin or veteran status”.
Additionally, members are expected to “contribute to a positive environment free from hostile and offensive behavior; that is, free from harassment.
Only members of the BA Professional Brewing Division are allowed to file complaints, but complaints can come from a group of members, Odell said. After a complaint is filed, the panel appointed by the BA will have 60 days to investigate the complaint and decide whether or not to forward it to the Board of Directors. Complaints require a two-thirds majority vote to be brought before the council.
The panel, which the BA said it plans to appoint by the end of the month, will be made up of three independent experts who do not work in breweries to maintain their impartiality, like the panel it appointed to review marketing and advertising complaints.
“The panel will be comprised of three impartial professionals with experience in areas related to the potential areas of complaint (i.e. alcoholic beverages and labor law, best practices in diversity, equity and Inclusion (DEI)),” the BA told Brewbound.
The person filing the complaint and the subject of the complaint may submit evidence to the panel, which will keep all proceedings confidential from the council until it decides whether or not to forward the complaint. There are several scenarios in which complaints might not move forward, Odell explained.
“The panel has a number of options when reviewing the complaint and at any time it may dismiss a complaint that is knowingly false or misleading, or made for an improper purpose,” she said. “They can dismiss a complaint if the subject of the complaint – and that would be great – promptly takes appropriate corrective action to remedy the conduct complained of, or if the complaining party has simply waited too long to file the complaint and no longer relevant at this time.”
Once a complaint reaches the Board of Directors, the Board has 30 days to determine what action has been taken. Possible outcomes include:
- Membership conditional on a member taking certain corrective actions;
- Withdrawal of membership for a specified period of time;
- Or the indefinite withdrawal of membership.
In some cases, the complaint filer will remain anonymous with respect to the subject matter of the complaint, such as problematic tags or social media posts. In other cases, especially complaints about work scripts, the submitter will be identified.
During its investigation, the independent panel will not share information with the council. Information will be disclosed to the public on a case-by-case basis.
“If something awful happens and it’s posted on social media and everyone knows about it, and somebody comes to the Brewers Association and says ‘Are you dealing with this? ? the Brewers Association will acknowledge that it is under investigation without disclosing any confidential information,” Odell said. “Ultimately, the Brewers Association will publish the final decision for all to see.”
The BA will only accept complaints about inappropriate behavior after August 6, 2020, the day the Board adopted the Code of Conduct. That means past racist behavior by owners and employees of breweries such as Grand Rapids, Michigan-based Founders Brewing, which settled a racial discrimination lawsuit filed by a former employee, and 56 Brewing, based in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where former owner Kale Johnson himself divested of his stake after it was reported he mocked a black employee with a piece of rope tied to look like a noose, will go unpunished.
“If this is behavior that has been happening for five years and is still happening, it would be appropriate to file a complaint,” Odell said. “Otherwise, we feel it is beyond our ability to access the past for activity that is no longer occurring.”
This week, Founders, an associate member of the BA due to participation from global brewer Mahou San Miguel, presented a three-year, five-phase program diversity, equity and inclusion plan.
“We strive to be a driving force for change by creating a culture where all employees bring their full, true, and unique selves to work every day,” Founders wrote. “We want our actions to have a positive ripple effect in the communities we serve, and that starts with ensuring transparency and accountability in everything we do.”
Former Founders employee Tracy Evans filed a discrimination complaint against the company in August 2018, alleging co-workers used slurs in her presence and that the company had a “racist internal corporate culture”. In October 2019, a leaked deposition revealed that Evans’ former manager refused to acknowledge that Evans was black (he is). Amid the backlash, the founders’ director of diversity and inclusion, Graci Harkema, resigned, saying her advice had been ignored.
Public outcry began to mount on social media this summer when the BA issued a statement after protests against police brutality and racial injustice began to grow across the country following the death of George Floyd.
The Brewers Association stands in solidarity against racial injustice. We don’t have all the answers and we know that as an industry we have a lot of work to do. 1/2
— Brewers Association (@BrewersAssoc) June 2, 2020
Critics said the BA failed to address issues like those at Founders and 56 Brewing, prompting the BA to begin the process of developing the code of conduct and complaints process.
“We, as a society, have all been called to account for not paying enough attention to racial and social justice in the United States, and again, the Brewers Association and our industry are not safe from such criticism,” the BA and Maine board chairman said. Co-founder of Beer Company Dan Kleban said at Tuesday’s town hall. “I can tell you that the BA Board, the BA staff, all the committees, in addition to trying to do what we can to help our own breweries, have been dedicated to ensuring that the Brewers Association not only weathers these storms, but emerges stronger, more resilient, more diverse and more inclusive than ever.