Valley franchisee files civil rights lawsuit against McDonald's
A Youngstown McDonald's franchise operator is taking the fast-food giant to court over allegations of racial discrimination, according to a lawsuit filed Tuesday, Feb. 16.
For nearly 40 years, Herb Washington has operated one of the largest networks of black-owned McDonald's franchises in the country. At the height of his ownership, he had 27 locations, now he's down to 14 and he believes more could follow.
Washington says he was not treated the same as his white counterparts for years. From assessments to incentives, he says the situations did not match up.
"When I spoke up and rejected this treatment, and the treatment of all black franchisees, McDonald's merely told me to shut up, go back to the grill and flip hamburgers and work harder," Washington said.
He claims McDonald's Corporate made it difficult for black owners to reach higher profits, by only allowing them to operate locations in areas with lower volume and profit margins.
"My cost of doing business oftentimes is a lot higher," Washington said.
Washington says his locations are in areas where he needed to hire security.
He says the sale of several locations in recent years always went to white owners.
Washington described the list of potential buyers of a franchise was always presented to him by McDonald's- who had the final say.
In return for agreeing to go along with the fast food giant's desired options, Washington claims he was promised locations in more affluent areas, which included Wooster and University Heights, but that those promises were never kept.
On Thursday, US political activist, minister, and politician Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr. offered a press statement Thursday in support of Washington and his case against the fast-food franchise.
"There is a growing crisis emerging between McDonalds and its Black owner operators, who have historically been allies and the face of the corporation. Although McDonalds has made tremendous strides over the years, there seems to be an adverse wind blowing in the face of its Black operators," Jackson wrote.
"I recently learned of litigation being filed by Herb Washington, whom I met in the 80s while running for president. Herb Washington is a man of integrity, having served on the board of the Federal Reserve Bank for many years. His lawsuit against McDonalds has my attention and I am concerned about its resolution. McDonalds needs to implement a respect-based plan for Black operators. I will be in contact with the executive leadership of McDonalds regarding these issues," Jackson added.
Washington's attorneys argue it's a pattern.
"McDonald's is systematically driving back franchisees out of its system, by stripping black owners of their stores and turning them over to white owners as McDonald's is doing with Herb," Kevin Conway said, an attorney with Peiffer Wolf, Carr Kane & Conway out of Cleveland.
Washington said in a virtual media briefing with his legal team on Tuesday, that he believes McDonald's has a two tier system, one for white franchises and one for black franchises.
The complaint filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern Division of Ohio- Eastern Division on Tuesday, details claims of racial discrimination from contracting to the sale of property.
21 News reached out to McDonald's USA and the company responded with the following statement:
"Herb Washington is facing business challenges that we don’t want for anyone in our System. It’s why we’ve invested significantly in his organization and offered him multiple opportunities over several years to address these issues.
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. 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.
We will review the complaint and respond accordingly."
Washington points to the lower profits for black franchise owners. He says the drop from 400 to about 187 black franchisees is evidence that it's tough for them to turn a profit and see overwhelming success.