Editor's note: This story contains graphic language
Natalie Phillips said the first time Actual Brewing founder Fred Lee attempted to force himself on her, she managed to ward him off.
It was late summer 2018, and Phillips said she had just accepted a position to work as a sales rep for Actual, growing the market for the beer in Dayton, where she lives. The two had spent the evening celebrating her addition to the company with dinner and drinks, returning afterward to join others at the Actual Brewing taproom on the East Side of Columbus, where Phillips intended to retire to what some staff members have termed the “sleep it off” room — a small space in the brewery equipped with a bed. She said she awoke around 4 a.m. with Lee on top of her, his hands down her pants.
“I yelled at him: ’Stop touching me! Get off of me! This is never going to happen!” Phillips said in a late January interview.
Lee stopped immediately and left the room, Phillips said. Driving back to Dayton the next morning, Phillips, 40, who has had a long career in the beer industry, chalked up the experience as yet another in a long line of harassments and indignities that numerous women interviewed for this story described as endemic to the profession.
Phillips said that on Friday, Sept. 14, she returned to Columbus to finalize the details of the new position prior to her start the following Monday. Lee again suggested a celebration, Phillips said, and she obliged, taking comfort in the fact that two other women would be joining them for dinner. The four shared a couple of bottles of wine during the meal, afterwards moving to a bar where Phillips ordered a Captain Morgan and Coke.
Her next recollection is of Lee on top of her, having sex with her inside Actual’s East Side taproom, she said.
Via email, Lee declined comment on what he termed “recent false allegations of sexual assault,” referring Alive to his attorney, William A. Settina, who provided Alive with an emailed statement on Tuesday, Feb. 5.
“Fred Lee denies that he forced himself upon anyone at any time,” Settina wrote. “The claims leveled against Fred are unfounded and dubious at best. If anyone has such a claim, let them come forward to defend that accusation in a court of law.”
Phillips filed a complaint with Columbus police in October accusing Lee of sexual assault.
Actual’s advisory board said it is investigating complaints of harassment, and late Tuesday, Feb. 5, a staff-wide email from Lee’s wife and Actual co-owner Mira Lee circulated in which it was announced that Lee would voluntarily step down as CEO, effective immediately, “out of concern for the impact that the accusations and investigation will surely have on livelihoods and day-to-day responsibilities of our 37 team members.”
Read the rest of the story on Columbus Alive.