Modern Times Beer CEO Steps Down Amid Craft Brewing's #MeToo Moment

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The founder and chief executive officer of the San Diego-based brewery Modern Times Beer announced he's stepping down after allegations of at least two incidents of harassment within the company, one of them involving himself.

A statement was posted to the company's website on Tuesday night, in which now-former CEO Jacob McKean said, "No one should ever have to be traumatized at work, and it guts me that people have under my watch." He also referenced a specific incident in which he "had a contentious interaction with an employee via Slack that badly missed the mark" (Slack is an Internet-based messaging tool often used at workplaces).

The move by McKean comes as the craft-brewing industry has been roiled by a thread on Instagram involving hundreds of serious allegations of inappropriate behavior within the business sector, with at least 40 of those accusations, one of which was about Modern Times, leveled against San Diego breweries.

All the accusers in the thread remained anonymous, their identities withheld by the IG poster Brienne Allan, who works in the brewery industry in Massachusetts and whose legal exposure is being covered, at least in part, by a GoFundMe account set up for any potential attorney expenses. The allegations being made range from sexism to sexual harassment to sexual assault to fostering toxic environments that are non-inclusive to people of color and members of the LGBTQ community.

Repercussions to craft beer's me-too moment have been swift in some cases. For example, pourers at Modern Times tasting room in Oakland on Tuesday refused to serve customers until the accusations against Modern Times were addressed.

They did not have long to wait, with McKean stepping down later that night, and in his statement, referencing another Modern Times employee who had also been singled out for alleged inappropriate behavior. That worker has been dismissed, the former CEO said: "While this portion of that particular investigation process is closed, we are still continuing to work through the next steps in order to take additional action as needed."

Modern Times was founded in 2013 at a location in Point Loma, according to its website. It also has breweries in Los Angles, Anaheim and Portland, Oregon, as well as tasting rooms in San Diego's North Park neighborhood, Encinitas and Santa Barbara.

San Diego Brewers Guild President Addresses Controversy

Virginia Morrison of San Diego's Second Chance Beer Company is also the president of San Diego Brewers Guild and a member of the Brewers Association board, where she chairs the diversity, equity and inclusion committee. She’s also a former employment lawyer who specialized in discrimination and harassment.

As the owner and CEO of Second Chance, which has a brewery in Carmel Mountain and a "beer lounge" in North Park, Morrison was asked by NBC 7 on Wednesday if she was surprised by the wave of allegations.

"No, I'm a woman," Morrison said. "Just like earlier this week, I had someone say, ‘Oh, you must be the wife of the owner.’ And I'm like, ‘No, I'm the owner.’ Like, this stuff happens all the time. And that was like a slight microaggression," adding later, “I'm glad that it's getting the attention that it deserves…. strange as it sounds, it makes you feel like: I'm not the only one who's experienced this. We've all, as women, experienced this.”

Morrison, who agreed that this is a #MeToo moment for her industry, said she didn't support the removal of brewers guild members accused in the thread, saying that kicking them out would be counterproductive to educating them to do better. In addition, she said that locally, they’re starting a code-of-conduct task force to partner with experts to get members -- both victims and aggressors -- resources.

"So as a committee, we're going to be talking about how do we, you know, get resource together?" Morrison said. "How do we partner with subject-matter experts to get our members the resources that they need, whether we're talking about the victims, you know, that they need crisis counseling, and like trauma and all of this stuff, where we're talking about, like, what do I do as a brewery owner? Most of them are small businesses. I don't have an HR department. If someone tells me about an allegation, what do I do?”

Morrison said she would love for Modern Times' McKean to reach out to her so she could give him additional perspective.

“This is really, like, a lack of awareness and understanding, of education, because he doesn't know what it's like to be a woman," Morrison said. "Or he doesn't know what it's like to be a person of color, or a woman of color, right?… I hope that he takes this time to, like, have conversations with people who are not like himself and understand why, you know, behavior that he thinks might be like, innocent, might be problematic for other people.”

Read McKean's Full Statement

I’d like to start off by saying what I should’ve said earlier: I’m sorry. I’m sorry that anyone has ever had to face harassment at Modern Times. No one should ever have to be traumatized at work, and it guts me that people have under my watch. I take full responsibility for that. My heart aches for anyone who came to work for us—full of hope for the career they expected to have with us—only to have that experience marred by harassment. That is truly awful, and I apologize from the bottom of my heart to anyone who has had that experience. I also apologize to all of our staff and fans who rightly expect so much better from us. You’ve invested your hearts and souls into this place, and I am so sorry to have let you down in this way.

I also want to address a specific incident in which I played a role. About a year ago, I had a contentious interaction with an employee via Slack that badly missed the mark. It was a personal and professional failure, and I take full accountability for that. A brave group of MT employees helped me see how I had come up short, which allowed me to overcome my defensiveness around this interaction. I spoke directly to the employee involved, and I apologized personally and profusely. That apology was accepted, and the conversation ended on friendly terms. I then apologized to all MT staff for the interaction and my subsequent handling of it, and I left the door open indefinitely for future dialogue on the subject.

I mention these two things together because they both need to be addressed urgently and publicly, and because they speak to my role as the Founder and CEO of Modern Times. There are aspects of that role that have played to my strengths and others, quite obviously, that have not. I have been in the process of changing my role for the past 4 years, stepping back from the things I’m not good at and trying to focus more on the things I do well. Part of that involved stepping away from day-to-day management and focusing more on planning the company’s future. Planning was not something we had done a lot of in the past, preferring instead to take opportunities as they presented themselves and thus growing at a breakneck pace. Under-resourced and understaffed, that process led to burnout for me and many others at MT, and it contributed to the corrosion of the internal culture we’d worked so hard to build.

Clearly, we still have a long way to go in order to get to where we need to be. To that end, we’re taking the following steps immediately:

  1. I am stepping down from my role as CEO, and we will begin a formal search for new company leadership. In order to navigate us out of this extremely difficult moment, we need leadership with the skill and experience to handle it effectively. It's time for a change.
  2. Today, we parted ways with an employee that was named in an online report last week. While this portion of that particular investigation process is closed, we are still continuing to work through the next steps in order to take additional action as needed.
  3. Changing our reporting procedures for harassment from an internal process to an external, anonymous, 3rd party process. It is now incredibly obvious that the process we have had for reporting harassment has not made people feel safe.
  4. Conducting bystander training and enhanced anti-harassment training for all staff, in addition to the current biennial sexual harassment training.
  5. Prioritizing the hiring of the previously committed to Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion Manager. Clearly, we are in over our heads here, and we need help and expertise. This is in addition to the deeper focus on training and education mentioned above, including our upcoming anti-oppression training, not in place of it.

These are the steps I can announce today, but they represent just the beginning of where we go from here. I sincerely apologize again for all of the hurt this has caused, both internally and externally, and I am committed to healing it, whatever that takes.

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