A Black former MLB player and current McDonald’s franchisee is accusing the fast-food giant of racial discrimination and “deplorable treatment” as compared with white franchisees.
Herb Washington, a track star at Michigan State who played for the Oakland A’s, has been a franchisee for 40 years. Since that time, Washington alleged that he’s been the victim of “predatory racially biased steering practices,” in which he’s been pushed to open stores in low-volume, predominantly Black neighborhoods.
At one point, Washington operated 27 stores across New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. He now owns 14 units, down from 23 in 2017. The court documents claim that when Washington spoke up for himself and other Black franchisees, McDonald’s told him “to sit down and be quiet.”
“There are two McDonald’s systems: one that is designed for white owners to flourish and grow and another that is designed to pigeonhole and oppress Black owners,” Washington said in a statement. “I will no longer give up my seat on the bus for white franchisees. After four decades in the McDonald’s system, I have been targeted for extinction. When I stood up for myself and other Black franchisees, McDonald’s began dismantling my life’s work, forcing me to sell one store after another to white operators.”
According to the court documents, Black McDonald’s franchisees average around $700,000 less in annual sales than white owners. The lawsuit attributed the disparity to McDonald’s “ongoing policies of racially disparate treatment.
The complaint alleged hostility toward Black individuals was felt immediately once Steve Easterbrook and Chris Kempczinski took over as CEO and president of McDonald’s USA, respectively. It further claimed hostility trickled into the field offices. According to the lawsuit, since Easterbrook and Kempczinski took the reins, there haven't been any Black executives in the Columbus, Ohio, field office, which has authority over Washington’s operations. Easterbrook was fired in 2019 for having a consensual relationship with an employee and is currently facing a lawsuit from McDonald’s aimed at recovering millions in severance. Kempczinski has served as CEO since October 2020.
“While McDonald’s has joined the chorus of brands releasing hollow solidarity statements in support of Black Lives Matter and has launched a marketing campaign to profit from that movement, it has done nothing to change its own internal policies that perpetuate systemic racism by disadvantaging and squeezing out its Black franchise owners,” the lawsuit states.
McDonald’s denied Washington’s allegations and claimed that it has invested significantly into his operation, which is facing business challenges. The chain said it’s offered Washington multiple chances over many years to address the issues.
The restaurant said the situation is the result of years of mismanagement by Washington, “whose organization has failed to meet many of our standards on people, operations, guest, satisfaction, and reinvestment.”
“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,” McDonald’s said in a statement.
The concerns raised by Washington are similar to a lawsuit brought forth by more than 50 Black former operators in August. Like Washington, the plaintiffs claimed McDonald’s pushed them toward poor areas that didn’t provide the same opportunities as their White peers. The complaint was amended in November to add more than 25 franchisees to the lawsuit.
The complaint said average annual sales were about $2 million, which is more than $700,000 lower than the chain’s national average of $2.7 million between 2011 and 2016 and even smaller than the $2.9 million average in 2019. The filing also claimed the number of Black franchisees has decreased from 377 in 1998 to 186 in 2020.
McDonald’s vehemently reputed the claims from the numerous franchisees and has sought to dismiss the lawsuit. The chain said while it recommends locations, the operator chooses the area. It also noted there’s been a decrease in franchise ownership across all demographic groups, and the representation of Black operators has remained the same proportion.
“Success is promised to no one, and Plaintiffs’ struggles—while regrettable—are simply not a basis for a claim against McDonald’s,” the company said in response to the lawsuit.
Additionally, In October, a lawsuit was brought forth by two current operators, James and Darrell Byrd, on the behalf of 186 other Black franchisees who expressed similar allegations. McDonald’s responded by saying it made offers to buy the duo’s restaurants before the lawsuit and that the operators “ran into business difficulties caused by mismanagement of their organizations.”