Four Fired Brew Pub Workers Claim Anti-LGBTQ Bias

Wednesday April 21, 2021

Four front-of-house staffers at BrewDog, an Indianapolis brew pub, allege that they were fired for being LGBTQ. The company they used to work for has faced similar controversy before.

Food and beverage site VinePair reports that the four workers were fired from BrewDog Indianapolis despite, they say, "high performance rankings and gifts from the company prior to termination."

The article (and a tweet from one of the workers) indicate that the firings, which took place in March, came about after the brew pub's former general manager and head chef, both women, had been replaced with men. The mass firing also took place on International Women's Day.

The brew pub's new general manager, whom the workers had not even met, "called us one by one and told us that we were all being fired because they wanted a change in culture," according to former staff Erica O'Neill.

Three of the fired staffers were women, but all four identified as LGBTQ, including two transgender workers and one who identified as non-binary.

The general manager in question soon left the company's employ, but controversy grew, propelled in part by social media.

Another component to the PR fiasco was the company's history of anti-LGTBQ and misogynistic gaffes, the VinePair reports. Noting that part of the brand's marketing includes "lad humor" that ties into the firm's Scottish origins, the article said that BrewDog has "regularly trampled that line" between humor and offense "when it comes to initiatives targeted to or about women and LGBTQ+ communities," including a since-discontinued "Trashy Blonde Ale" (billed as possessing "attitude, style, substance and a little bit of low self-esteem for good measure"), a "non-binary, transgender beer" called No Label made with "hops that have changed sex from female to male flowers prior to harvest," and a "Pink IPA" intended to draw attention to the wage gap between men and women... which, the article noted, ignored a gender-correlated wage gap among the company's 1,000 employees.

In an age of heightened consumer consciousness and corporate equality indexes, such cavalier marketing practices can only drive growth for so long, especially when a company has demonstrated a consistent pattern of fluctuation between the two strategies VinePair notes BrewDog has relied on: Talking up its "progressive bona fides" and, when necessary, offering up "an apology that's direct enough to provide cover but noncommittal enough that it won't be seen as capitulating to pressure."

One of the workers fired from the BrewDog location, Leah Foster, told VinePair that the company's actions seemed like a "dark satire, like, 'We can make jokes and no one can get mad at them or hold us accountable because we're punk, we're alternative, and we're leading this industry.' "

Or, as critic Oli Carter-Esdale put it when speaking with the writer of the VinePair article, "there are only so many times you can claim that you're learning, and not learn."

But the market share in the brewing world is growing more expansive and more diverse, and educated consumers now have a broader range of choices. A recent Hop Culture article celebrated "16 Queer-Led and Queer-Supporting Breweries to Champion Right Now," one of them being the venerable Boston-based Samuel Adams, with whom Hop Culture had partnered on a "Queer Beer Fest" that was "aimed at capturing the unique, diverse, vibrant, and colorful voices of the queer community in craft beer."

Smaller businesses, too, are aiming for a slice of the LGBTQ market. One of them, the new 1865 Brewing Company in Hampton Roads, Virginia, co-founded by a lesbian entrepreneur, was recently profiled at EDGE.

Across the pond, too, there's a growing awareness in the brewing world of the LGBTQ, and major businesses are getting on board. VinePair pointed out that the UK's Queer Brewing Project had a deal with British supermarket chain Tesco — ironically, a deal that features beer produced by none other than BrewDog.

The lesson? Change may be slow in coming... but even an old BrewDog can learn new tricks.