comScore

Lawsuit: Lost Sanity Brewing's name at center of hospital feud

After mother-and-son hospital employees questioned Lost Sanity Brewing's name, things got messy.

After mother-and-son hospital employees questioned Lost Sanity Brewing's name, things got messy. Lost Sanity Brewing Facebook

Back in 2018, the Fenske family opened a new brewery in Madelia, Minnesota. They called it Lost Sanity Brewing.

“It’s very, very aptly named for us,” Madelia native Caleb Fenske told the Growler in March of that year. “If you open a brewery in a small town like this, especially at the scale we’re doing, you have to be a little insane to do it.”

They kept the theme going as they named their beers. The menu includes a honey brown ale called “Botched Lobotomy,” an IPA called “Hopzophrenia,” a “Personality Disorder Porter,” and a “Citra Insane-O.”

Not everyone thought the concept was appropriate. Michael Hruby, a dietary aid at the Madelia Community Hospital and Clinic, wrote a letter to the Madelia Times Messenger in June of that year saying as much.

“While the idea of losing one’s sanity and working two jobs is one many people can relate to, the idea of naming ANY product in a way that stigmatizes and belittles another human being is appalling,” he wrote. “I’m sure there was no malicious intent on the part of the Fenskes, that they simply wanted product names that matched the theme of Lost Sanity; however, there are names that could be used that are less divisive and derogatory.”

According to a legal complaint filed by Michael’s mother, Deidre Hruby, who worked as director of nursing at the same hospital, things got complicated for both of them. As it happens, the hospital CEO at the time was Candace Fenskea member of the family running the brewery.

(Lost Sanity declined to comment for this story.)

According to court documents, “within days” of that op-ed appearing in the paper, Candace Fenske told the hospital’s HR director she thought Michael was taking extra long breaks. Messages also allegedly began to circulate between hospital leadership about Michael “spouting off again,” with one person allegedly wishing “the fag would just quit.” (Michael happens to be a gay man.)

Deidre and some co-workers were worried about the brewery’s beer names, which they discussed one day in April 2018, according to the complaint, commenting on how Candace Fenske's connection with Lost Sanity might reflect on the hospital. After all, she and Candace had started a Mental Health Task Force for the hospital back in 2015.

Candace allegedly “reprimanded” Deidre after this conversation. Deidre also got passed over for a promotion to CEO after Fenske had planned to leave, though she was allegedly “the only internal candidate” for the position.

That September, Deidre decided she’d had enough and filed an inquiry with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission about Michael’s alleged harassment by hospital leadership. The complaint was soon dismissed.

A few months later, Hruby took her concerns to the Task Force and the new CEO, Jeff Mengenhausen. Hruby's complaint says that effort backfired, and that Mengenhausen told her the way she’d openly discussed the text about her sonthe one allegedly calling him a homophobic slurwas “unprofessional and disrespectful.”

In April 2019, Mengenhausen told Hruby her position was being eliminated, and she should pack her stuff and get out within 30 minutes.

Hruby is now suing the hospital for alleged retaliation. Madelia has filed an answer denying pretty much her entire account, saying her termination was one of several made simultaneously in an attempt to “address a substantial budget cut.”

“In fact, many of those allegations were already considered and dismissed by the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Minnesota Department of Human Rights,” the hosptial said in a statement sent to City Pages.

But Deidre’s lawyer, Joni Thome, isn’t so sure about that.

“When a complaint (to the EEOC) is filed and dismissed quickly, it really seems more likely there was a lack of resources,” she says. “It really means nothing.”

And as for the “budget cut,” Thome says she’s “never heard of a hospital that didn’t need a director of nursing.”

“It sounds like a pretense for a reprisal,” she says.

Hruby's seeking damages, including the monetary value on any benefits she missed out on since being let go, and additionally for mental and emotional anguish, humiliation, and loss of enjoyment of life.