Black franchise owner charges McDonald’s with racial discrimination

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A former Oakland A’s star claims the company punished him for speaking out

A long-time McDonald’s franchise owner who is African American has filed a lawsuit against the company, charging that it systematically kept him and other minority franchisees out of the more lucrative markets they sought.

Herb Washington, a former Major League Baseball player for the Oakland A’s, claimed in his lawsuit that McDonald’s discriminated against him and other minority owners based on race.

“In his four decades in the McDonald’s system, Mr. Washington has suffered deplorable treatment as compared with White franchisees,” the complaint alleges. “As but one example discussed below, McDonald’s purposefully steered Mr. Washington into stores in distressed, predominantly Black neighborhoods, which—as McDonald’s well knew—yield considerably less profit than stores in more affluent communities.”

Washington heads the largest black-owned franchise group in the U.S. At one time he owned 27 McDonald’s restaurants in New York, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. The suit claims that, beginning in 2017, the company began a campaign to force him to sell.

The catalyst, Washington alleges, was his public grievances about McDonald’s policies, which he claimed was retaliation for speaking about the “predatory, racially-biased steering practices” against black franchisees. 

Washington now owns 14 McDonald’s restaurants and said he was forced to sell seven stores over the last three years.

McDonald’s responds

For its part, McDonald’s accused Washington of being a poor businessman and said most of his setbacks were his own doing.

“This situation is the result of years of mismanagement by Mr. Washington, whose organization has failed to meet many of our standards on people, operations, guest satisfaction and reinvestment,” McDonald’s said in a statement. “His restaurants have a public record of these issues, including past health and sanitation concerns and some of the highest volumes of customer complaints in the country.”

Washington’s suit also blames former McDonald’s CEO Steve Easterbrook and current CEO Chris Kempczinski for allegedly fostering a hostile attitude toward black franchisees. He said the attitude spread throughout the organization.

The suit asks the court to “declare that Defendants’ acts and conduct violate federal law” and to enter a judgment in Washington’s favor, but it did not specify a number when seeking damages.

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