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.
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.”
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, more than 50 black franchisees sued Chicago-based McDonald’s claiming that the company relegates black franchisees to unprofitable, low-income neighborhoods. In October, two brothers in the Nashville area who operated McDonald’s stores for decades sued the company on the same grounds.