**UPDATE ADDED 4/3/2019. Click on Update tab to view.**
Back in 2009 when we opened Eagle Rock Brewery, I noticed that the few women who were visiting our tasting room and attending beer events throughout town were often pigeon-holed by their male counterparts into drinking only specific beer styles. And when women asked me (a fellow woman behind the bar) about beer-style recommendations, some men would interject by sharing what they thought women should drink. After seeing this so frequently I felt compelled to create an environment that was less male-dominated than anything else in the beer world. The Women’s Beer Forum was created to serve as an educational platform for more women interested in learning about beer, tasting through different beer styles, and being with a community of other women who enjoy good beer. On occasion, we would have men attend, present, and even participate in the discussions. It was simply named “Women’s Beer Forum” because I wanted to create a comfortable, safe environment for more women to actively join the conversation about craft beer. Most every other beer bar or beer event that I attended had predominantly men in attendance, and I felt there was a true need to balance the gender scale. Thus, the Women’s Beer Forum has been recurring monthly since March 2011.
In November of 2017, we received an email from an individual who claims to be a men’s rights activist. He reported that he emailed our general email line and was informed by one of our staff that the upcoming Women’s Beer Forum was for ‘women only.’ He then proceeded to demand thousands of dollars from us, while also threatening a discrimination complaint through the government if we refused to pay. Since he had never purchased admission through our online sales portal, we were unaware about his request to attend the Women’s Beer Forum. We apologized about the miscommunication and offered him an opportunity to learn about the same flight of beers provided at the event for the same ticket price. He declined the educational opportunity and instead filed a claim through the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH). After 7 months of waiting for a response, DFEH notified us of their decision that there was reasonable cause to open a case. Our only options: Pay a settlement to him or defend ourselves in a potential lawsuit that they would file on his behalf.
Looking at this situation from a moral standpoint, our decision seemed easy...We defend what we had worked so hard to create! But another question arose: Were we defending our beloved Eagle Rock Brewery or the Women’s Beer Forum? The sad truth we faced is that while defending ourselves against litigation it would mean risking the very brewery itself.
Career plaintiffs in such cases like these are able to make a living off of filing these types of complaints because most businesses choose to preserve the financial security of the company and pay them off. Career plaintiffs, similar to the “men’s rights activist” we are up against, can make comfortable livings by getting paid out through exploiting loopholes in legislation. All they do is fill out a couple forms per case and wait for checks from their complaints to start rolling in.
It kills me to say that we ended up settling. It’s something we had to do in order to protect the business (Eagle Rock Brewery), our home, the livelihoods of our team, and the investments made by friends and family who believe in us. At this point, we still have to come up with the funds for our legal fees and the settlement amount.
Further, we truly believe that justice hasn’t been achieved and the fight isn’t over. To prevent this from happening again in the future, we are also raising funds to build awareness throughout the beer and small business communities. Our goal is to work on getting legislators to amend the Unruh Act and eliminate the ongoing abuse of this law. As much as we would love to simply put this situation behind us, we very strongly feel there needs to be more awareness about these “men’s rights activists” who target and unfairly take advantage of women’s groups and small businesses. The more people who know about this can protect themselves, their friends, and businesses from such fraudulent claims, the fewer opportunity extortionists have of continuing to make a living off of it!
We are asking for your help. Please consider making a contribution to our campaign, sharing our story, being a unified voice with us, or just stopping by Eagle Rock Brewery to give us a hug or high-five. Thank you all for the support!