Brands‘You’ve got to hold McDonald’s accountable’: largest Black franchisee tells marketers

After filing racial discrimination suit against McDonald's, Herb Washington speaks to marketing and advertising agencies
Marcom Weekly StaffFebruary 16, 20216 min

“You’ve got to hold McDonald’s accountable,” Herb Washington says to advertising and marketing agencies and vendors. 

In a Zoom press conference today announcing his racial discrimination lawsuit against McDonald’s, Washington asked advertising and marketing agencies and vendors who continue to work with the company despite his allegations, “Is this the kind of culture that you want to be associated with? Is this the kind of culture that speaks to the fabric of America where everyone has an opportunity to be successful?”

Washington, once a college track star at Michigan State University, former Oakland A’s player, community leader, and one of the most notable success stories in Black American business history, filed a civil rights lawsuit today against fast-food giant McDonald’s, exposing the company’s campaign of racial discrimination and retaliation against him as a Black franchisee, according to a press announcement from his law firm.

The complaint filed by the law firm Peiffer Wolf Carr Kane & Conway details how McDonalds “redlined” Washington and other Black store owners into its least desirable locations, withheld advantages provided to White store owners, and then, in the case of Washington, systematically dismantled his 27-store chain empire in New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio – forcing him to sell seven stores in the last three years and, in every case, to White owners.

Referring to advertising and marketing agencies, Kevin Conway, partner, Peiffer Wolf Carr Kane & Conway tells Marcom Weekly, “You literally have to sit there and think, ‘is McDonald’s good for my brand?’ That’s what I’d ask them to think about.”

Washington and his attorneys claim 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. 

“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,” says Washington. 

He explains, “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. At the very same time, McDonald’s deemed my 35-year-old son ineligible to purchase any stores.” 

McDonald’s responded in a widely circulated public statement denying his claims. “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,” they say.

Washington wrote in his press announcement, “While it may look like a multicultural Mecca in TV commercials, the McDonald’s experience for Black franchisees is one of redlining and retaliation.”

He says behind the curtain, McDonald’s is about cultural appropriation and restricting the transfer of intergenerational wealth in the Black community.

“Do you want your name associated with people like that?” Washington asks during the virtual press conference.

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