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McDonald’s is being sued by two African American executives who allege they suffered “systematic but covert” racial discrimination at the fast-food giant.
Vicki Guster-Hines and Domineca Neal, senior directors working for McDonald’s in Dallas, allege that discrimination at the company worsened under the former chief executive Steve Easterbrook, who took over the company in 2015.
UK-born Easterbrook was ousted from the firm last year after it was revealed he had been involved in a romantic relationship with a colleague that broke company rules. He left with over $37m in stock awards and a severance deal of $675,000.
During Easterbrook’s tenure, Guster-Hines and Neal allege, McDonald’s “conducted a ruthless purge” of high-ranking African Americans and shifted advertising away from black customers.
The suit claims the number of African Americans in the top ranks of McDonald’s operations fell to seven last year from 42 in 2014.
The two executives allege McDonald’s created a “hostile and abusive work environment” for black executives and franchisees. Guster-Hines and Neal were demoted from vice-president to senior director positions in July 2018 as part of a broader corporate restructuring conducted under Easterbrook. They are seeking compensation following those demotions, claiming that they occurred as a result of discrimination.
The suit also names the company’s current chief executive, Chris Kempczinski, and Charles Strong, the Chicago-based west zone president for McDonald’s.
“In shocking ways difficult to overstate, McDonald’s under Easterbrook and Kempczinski declared war against the African American community,” the lawsuit alleges.
McDonald’s said it disagreed with the characterization of the company’s behavior. In a statement, it said 45% of its corporate officers and all of its field vice-presidents are people of color.
“At McDonald’s, our actions are rooted in our belief that a diverse, vibrant, inclusive and respectful company makes us stronger,” the company said. “While we disagree with characterizations in the complaint, we are currently reviewing it and will respond to the complaint accordingly.”
The suit comes as McDonald’s conducts a broad examination of its corporate culture in the wake of Easterbrook’s departure. According to the Wall Street Journal, under Easterbrook staff allege the company culture was characterized by “late-night socializing with some executives and staffers at bars and flirtations with female employees”.
The suit, filed on Tuesday in McDonald’s hometown of Chicago, is the latest in a series of racial and sexual harassment cases that have been brought against the company.
In 2015, shortly after Easterbrook’s appointment, 10 former McDonald’s workers in Virginia filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the fast-food chain, claiming they were fired because the stores had “too many black people”.
Last year Brazilian authorities opened an investigation into allegations of widespread racism at the company’s operations in Brazil. And in November the company was sued and faced industrial action by staff for an allegedly “pervasive” culture of sexual harassment at its restaurants in Michigan.