A former Major League Baseball player-turned-McDonald’s franchise owner sued the fast-food giant on Tuesday, alleging it pushed him out of numerous locations with corporate practices that amounted to racial discrimination.
Herb Washington, who played for the Oakland A’s in the 1970s, once owned 27 McDonald’s in New York, Pennsylvania and his native Ohio — making him the largest black-owned franchise in the country, according to the complaint filed in federal court in Youngstown, Ohio, on Tuesday.
Now, at 69 years old, Washington says he owns just 14 locations, and alleges that McDonald’s pressured him to sell several of his stores, including seven over the past three years, to white franchisees.
“McDonald’s exercises various tactics to manipulate franchisees such as cutting sales volume by encroaching on their territory or altering advertising to skew against a franchisee’s customer base,” according to the complaint. “Such tactics depress resale value as they are being forced out. Franchisees must comply with McDonald’s directives or risk financial ruin.”
According to the complaint, McDonald’s “redlined” Washington and other black franchisees into its least desirable locations and withheld advantages provided to white franchisees, including unequal distribution of rent relief.
Washington said the Black Lives Matter movement had paved the way for his complaint as well as McDonald’s decision not to allow his son to take over some of his stores even after his son completed the company’s training program.
“As I started to speak out and McDonald’s squeezed me, [my son] was later told that he was no longer eligible to purchase restaurants from me or anyone,” Washington said during a press conference on Tuesday, describing the company’s actions as “retaliation.”
McDonald’s denied the allegations in a statement Tuesday, saying Washington’s business problems were the result of “mismanagement,” including failure to hire managers trained by the company, poor customer follow-up and a rodent infestation.
Washington’s stores, the company said, “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.”
The company said Washington’s Cleveland store had a vermin problem that has resulted in a “litany of violations” from the city’s department of health.
“Over 40 years you are going to hit some speed bumps,” Washington said, adding that he was not confirming the company’s characterization of his business “but any of those things …are fixable. You don’t get to stay in the system if you are a bad operator.”
McDonald’s added that it does not place franchisees into specific locations, and that franchisees ultimately decide on who purchases their restaurants.
“In this case, McDonald’s offered several options, including diverse operators, as potential buyers for Mr. Washington’s restaurants,” the company said.
The lawsuit by Washington, who was also a track star at Michigan State University, is the third such complaint against the largest restaurant company in the world.
In September, 52 former black franchisees sued Chicago-based McDonald’s claiming that the company relegates black franchisees to unprofitable, low-income neighborhoods, which has resulted in black owners earning $700,000 less than the national average. In October, two brothers in the Nashville area who operated McDonald’s stores for decades sued the company on the same grounds.