The founders of influential local craft beer company Eagle Rock Brewery are speaking out about their fight with a well-known men’s rights activist who formally complained about a perceived lack of access to a women’s beer forum. The issue first came to light late last year, and now ownership has launched a new campaign — including a GoFundMe page — to draw attention to what they believe is a growing public issue.
Co-owner Ting Su tells Eater that the first sign of trouble arrived in November 2017, when a man cold emailed their general info line asking for a spot at that month’s women’s beer forum, a recurring ticketed event for anyone looking for a more communal and comfortable place to discuss beer within a like-minded community. A member of Eagle Rock Brewery’s staff reportedly informed the emailer (mistakenly) that the events were for women only, leading to a filed discrimination claim through the Department of Fair Employment and Housing.
The women’s beer forums have been run every month since early 2011, when Ting, a female brewery owner and person of color in a still largely male and white industry, decided to create a safer space for mostly women to convene over a few pints. Per Su:
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.
Su says that the man, identified as Steve Frye from Orange County, was initially offered a personal tasting and discussion or access to a future women’s beer forum event, but he chose to file a complaint with the DFEH instead. That government organization eventually notified Eagle Rock Brewery that they believed the complaint had merit, and would be pursuing it in court unless a settlement was made to Frye directly.
The LA Times has previously covered Frye’s legal exploits after he sued then-businessman Donald Trump in 2010, alleging sexism against men over a golf charity event at Trump’s Rancho Palos Verdes course. The event, done to raise money for breast cancer research, offered a discount to women participants. The Times notes that Frye “has sued dozens of California businesses over the years” under similar circumstances.
Per the brewery’s GoFundMe page:
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... 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.
Despite the settlement, Su and company are still keen to raise as much money as possible. She tells Eater that they are focused on “raising awareness to help small businesses and women’s groups in the community protect themselves from these types of claims. And hoping that we can elicit some form of change at the legislative level to minimize the exploitation of the Unruh Act by career plaintiffs so that the small businesses and women’s groups don’t continually get targeted for these cases.”
“All they do,” Su’s online post reads, “is fill out a couple forms per case and wait for checks from their complaints to start rolling in.”
Eagle Rock Brewery’s GoFundMe page has already raised well over the $10,000 initial ask, just one day after going live. Su says that, despite the settlement setback, she plans to continue fighting at the legislative level to close loopholes and tighten the laws that she feels allow for extortion against small businesses.