Black franchise owner sues McDonald’s, cites persistent bias

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Herb Washington poses for a portrait outside his McDonalds restaraunt in Niles, Ohio, Thursday, Jan. 3, 2002. Washington, the Black owner of 14 McDonald's franchises in Ohio has sued the corporation in federal court asserting numerous instances of unfair treatment compared with white owners. Washington in his lawsuit filed Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021 says the Chicago-based company has steered him over the years into buying franchises in low-income, majority Black communities while denying him the chance to buy stores in more affluent white locations. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)

CLEVELAND – The Black owner of 14 McDonald’s franchises says the company has shown more favorable treatment to white owners and denied him the opportunity to buy restaurants in more affluent communities, according to a civil rights lawsuit filed Tuesday in federal court in Youngstown.

The lawsuit filed by Herbert Washington, a former Michigan State University track star who played for parts of two seasons with the Oakland Athletics in the mid-1970s, said the Chicago-based company's discriminatory practices has led to a $700,000 sales gap between Black-owned franchises and those owned by white people.

Franchises in low-income neighborhoods cost more to operate, have higher employee turnover and are not as profitable, the lawsuit said.

“By relegating Black owners to the oldest stores in the toughest neighborhoods, McDonald’s ensured that Black franchisees would never achieve the levels of success that White franchisees could expect,” the lawsuit said. “Black franchisees must spend more to operate their stores while White franchisees get to realize the full benefit of their labors."

More than 50 former Black McDonald’s franchise owners made similar claims to Washington’s in a lawsuit filed against the company in September, saying they were forced to sell around 200 stores in the last decade.

During a video news conference on Tuesday, Washington said he had been fighting a two-tiered system since he bought his first franchise in Rochester, New York, 40 years ago. Washington at one point owned 27 restaurants and said he was forced by McDonald's to sell seven stores over the last several years to white owners.

He now owns 12 restaurants in northeast Ohio and two in Pennsylvania. He blames his advocacy on behalf of Black McDonald's owners for his troubles with the company.

“McDonald's has targeted me for extinction,” Washington said. “The arches are in full-scale retaliation mode against me.”