O’Connor says it will open investigation, start new training after accusations of sexism, racism and harassment at brewery

Norfolk

NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Amid allegations of sexual harassment, sexism and racism, a Norfolk brewery has announced it will “redouble” its commitment to treating employees fairly.

With that commitment, O’Connor Brewing Co. said it will be opening a third-party investigation into the complaints and also immediately start new training for employees, among other initiatives.

“I will say unequivocally that sexism, racism, and sexual harassment have no place at our Brewery and never have,” O’Connor Founder, Owner and CEO Kevin O’Connor wrote in a statement released Friday.

The statement came days after some women who previously worked at O’Connor anonymously posted on social media saying they faced sexual harassment, sexism and racism at the brewery. The posts claimed leaders of O’Connor had been notified of each instance, but that they had been met with silence or acts of retaliation.

The accusations range from direction to stop using “girly” tones on the company’s social media, to issues with women who were in leadership roles, to some women being treated with less respect than their male counterparts. The posts also accuse some management at the brewery of banning hip-hop and rap music for a period of time, calling a Filipino employee “oriental,” and directing employees who supported the Black Lives Matter movement to stop posting “political” content on their personal Facebook pages.

Other accusations describe general mistreatment of employees when it came to pay and work conditions.

According to the social media posts, when these issues were brought to light, the employees allege Kevin O’Connor and others declined to take action.

10 On Your Side spoke with some former employees, however they did not want to speak on camera due to fear of retaliation.

A spokesman handling O’Connor’s media requests declined a 10 On Your Side request for an interview with O’Connor’s management on Friday.

The brewery posted a short statement on social media Thursday signed “OBC employees,” but Kevin O’Connor released a full statement Friday after 10 On Your Side attempted to contact the company about the allegations.

“Given that our company is in its eleventh year and has built a strong reputation among our customers and in the community for quality products and atmosphere at our location in Norfolk, these were very painful to read,” Kevin O’Connor wrote.

Kevin O’Connor said that he has not spoken directly to anyone who has made allegations on Facebook, Reddit or other sites because they were either anonymous or made by a third party.

He said that after he saw the posts, he held a company-wide meeting and asked employees to share their thoughts with him.

“Obviously, they were embarrassed by the negative attention O’Connor Brewing was receiving but vowed to work with me to address any problems,” Kevin O’Connor wrote.

In the statement emailed Friday to 10 On Your Side, the brewery listed several immediate action items, which are included below exactly as they were written in the statement:

  • “Opening an investigation into the complaints posted on social media, which will be conducted by an independent third-party investigator with extensive experience in the investigation of employment-related complaints and the enforcement of discrimination and harassment laws.
  • Immediate and on-going training on discrimination and harassment.
  • Immediate and on-going training on diversity and inclusion.
  • Implementation of a “Speak Up” program to encourage dialogue, meaning employees can bring concerns to any member of our management team, or if they choose, can discuss them with a committee of non-management employees. Employees will also have access to a confidential hotline to make complaints.
  • Actively soliciting feedback from employees via a culture survey which will be sent to all employees immediately and then quarterly afterwards; employees will have the option to submit survey results confidentially.”

“It is my personal pledge, as the founder and owner of O’Connor Brewing, that our business will always be collaborative and inclusive, and I am taking steps to ensure that the workplace reflects that mission,” Kevin O’Connor wrote.

The brewery posted on Facebook Friday with the statement, saying the brewery would be closed this upcoming weekend “to allow our staff members time to reflect and heal.”

The spokesman tells 10 On Your Side Jon DiDio will be handling the third-party investigation. The name of the company was not provided.

On Tuesday, June 22, O’Connor said it would be closed again that day to make more efforts to “address issues of inequality and harassment in our workplace, for the better.”

The brewery said the independent third-party investigation would start Wednesday, June 23 and the company would be “completely transparent with the findings.”

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