Amid a legal battle against former CEO Steve Easterbrook, McDonald’s is now investigating whether he covered up for other employees and looking into misconduct within the human resources department.
McDonald’s filed a lawsuit earlier this month, claiming it uncovered evidence that Easterbrook hid three sexual relationships with employees and approved a stock grant worth “hundreds of thousands of dollars” for one of those workers.
That court filing came as the result of an anonymous tip, which also included claims of inappropriate behavior from the human resources department and other employees. According to Bloomberg, McDonald’s is working with an outside legal firm to investigate allegations that Easterbrook covered up improprieties committed by other employees and to look “more broadly” into the human resources department.
McDonald’s said its board will “follow the facts wherever they may lead.”
“Our board and CEO are committed to leading with integrity,” the restaurant said in a statement. “Since being appointed CEO in November, Chris [Kempczinski] has installed a new chief people officer, announced refreshed values with input from employees around the world, and has committed to making these values part of everything we do. We will continue to make changes, where necessary, to support all parts of our organization.”
Easterbrook was fired in November after he revealed a consensual relationship with a McDonald’s employee. The investigation found that it was a “nonphysical, consensual relationship involving texting and video calls.” Under Kempczinski, McDonald’s has worked to improve its company culture after it was reported that parties and late-night socialization happened among executives and employees under Easterbrook.
McDonald’s said in the court filing that if it had known about the additional relationships at the time, Easterbrook would’ve been fired with cause. The fast-food chain is now trying to recover the former CEO’s severance package, which now exceeds $55 million, according to data solutions firm Equilar. Easterbrook responded a week later, claiming that McDonald’s had the information at the time he was fired.
In March, the brand announced the hiring of Heidi Capozzi to lead human resources. Since April, Capozzi has led an internal review examining hiring practices, performance evaluations, and how the department handles employees’ concerns, Bloomberg reported. Capozzi’s review is concurrent with McDonald’s overall investigation into the department.
The Wall Street Journal wrote that former managers felt the human resources department and Easterbrook didn’t listen to complaints about the misbehavior of other coworkers. They also told the outlet that they feared retaliation for reporting such conduct. There were concerns over being left out of promotions and favoritism within the human resources department, as well.
McDonald’s former human resources leader, David Fairhurst, left the company soon after Easterbrook was fired. At that time, the brand didn’t indicate why Fairhurst was fired, but it’s now saying the executive was fired due to misconduct. According to the Journal, Fairhurst was known to socialize with coworkers outside the office. In 2018, he allegedly had inappropriate physical contact with an employee at a gathering where employees were drinking heavily.
That hasn’t been the only change to the department. Melanie Steinbach, who was promoted to McDonald’s U.S. chief people officer in June, left the company in August for unknown reasons. In an online meeting, Capozzi said, “for a variety of reasons, and unfortunately I can’t comment on the specifics, we determined that her separation was really in the best interest of the company.”
McDonald’s is partnering with a consulting firm to conduct surveys and interviews with employees. Bloomberg reported that the surveys and “listening sessions” will start in September and that the results will be released in November.