Black Owner Of 14 Franchises Sues McDonald’s Over Bias

The owner of 14 McDonald’s fast food franchises is claiming that the company has shown bias toward white owners, according to a civil rights lawsuit filed Tuesday in federal court.

Herb Washington, who is a former Oakland Athletics Major League Baseball player, created the largest black-owned McDonald’s franchise operation in the nation, according to The Washington Post. He owned 27 McDonald’s restaurants in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and New York over the course of his 40 years as a franchisee.

Washington is now accusing the company, however, of pushing him out in 2017 as retribution for being vocal about what he alleges is the “predatory, racially biased steering practices” against black franchisees.

The lawsuit reads, “When Mr. Washington spoke up for himself and other Black franchisees, McDonald’s told him to sit down and be quiet. McDonald’s then discriminated further against Mr. Washington for daring to stand up for himself and to challenge McDonald’s racial discrimination.”

The complaint acknowledges that “McDonald’s has joined the chorus of brands releasing hollow solidarity statements in support of Black Lives Matter,” adding that the company “has launched a marketing campaign to profit from that movement.” However, its language accuses the restaurant company, saying 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 goes on to claim that while he used to be McDonald’s largest franchisee in the United States who is African American, the company has “targeted Mr. Washington for unfair grading and assessments designed to render him ineligible to continue to operate his restaurants.” It adds that this was done to “force him to sell numerous stores to White franchisees.” The lawsuit alleges that this was part of the company’s “effort to reduce Black ownership in its system.”

The Washington Post reports Mr. Washington’s comments on the lawsuit:

“McDonald’s has targeted me for extinction,” Washington said during a Zoom press conference from his home, appearing in a gray suit and black tie before a painting of Muhammad Ali knocking out Sonny Liston. “It took every ounce of me to succeed against the incredible and unfair odds that McDonald’s forced on me.”

Washington said he’s suing to end McDonald’s “two-tiered system where Black owner operators cannot be as successful as Whites. There is a system for them and one for people who look like me.” He said many Black franchisees left McDonald’s broke because of that system.

McDonald’s responded on Tuesday, saying that Mr. Washington’s position is a result of 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 reportedly 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.”
The lawsuit states that McDonald’s is biased against black franchisees, alleging that the company “relegat[es] Black owners to the oldest stores in the toughest neighborhoods,” creating a situation where they “must spend more to operate their stores while White franchisees get to realize the full benefit of their labors.”

According to the lawsuit, the amount of Black McDonald’s franchise owners in the U.S. has decreased from 377 in 1998 to 186 today. ABC News reports that the company responded to this, saying that while the total number of its U.S. restaurants has risen in the same time period  from around 12,500 at the end of 1998 to 14,000 in the present day the percentage of black-owned stores “is broadly unchanged.”

In October of last year, McDonald’s sought a dismissal of a similar lawsuit that claimed racial bias, “accusing it of selling Black owners subpar stores and failing to support their businesses…” As reported by The Wall Street Journal:
McDonald’s said it was implausible that it had a “secret strategy” to undermine Black owners, as it profits off its franchisees’ gains. 
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