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Judge dismisses Black franchisees’ lawsuit against McDonald’s

The current Nashville area operators didn’t provide enough details that they were treated differently than other operators.
McDonald's Black franchisee lawsuit
Photo courtesy of McDonald's

A federal judge has dismissed a pair of Black franchisees’ discrimination lawsuit against McDonald’s, saying that they didn’t provide enough details to back their claims and that the statute of limitations has passed on some of their claims, anyway.

“The court does not mean to imply that McDonald’s operations over the years have not been tainted by the brush of racism,” U.S. District Court Judge Harry Leinenweber wrote in his decision. “The fact that the first African-American franchisees didn’t appear until 15 years after the franchise system was established in 1955 provides the opposite inference.

“However, historical discrimination cannot be the base for a Section 1981 discrimination suit filed in 2020.”

The ruling left open the possibility that the lawsuit could proceed if they provide more specifics on the case in an amended complaint.

James and Darrell Byrd, brothers who at one point operated 14 McDonald’s locations in the Nashville area, sued the Chicago-based burger giant in October, arguing that they were treated differently from their White colleagues. The Byrds operated four stores at the time of the filing and each counted their tenure in the brand in decades.

It was one of several discrimination lawsuits filed against McDonald’s, including actions by Black former franchisees as well as another current Black operator in Herb Washington.

The Byrds argue that they were steered into Black neighborhoods where costs for security, insurance and turnover were higher, which prevented them from performing well enough financially to meet expansion standards. They also argue that they were denied requests for rent reduction while White colleagues were given overrides.

McDonald’s, for its part, had argued that they provided financial support to the Byrds’ case when they fell behind on rent and vendor payments and blamed their problems on mismanagement.

In his decision granting the burger chain’s request for dismissal, Leinenweber said that the Byrds “alleged a massive, complex case of discrimination commencing decades ago, extending across the nation, that has personally impacted hundreds of African-American McDonald’s franchisees.”

However, he said that the operators did not satisfy three requirements for discrimination, notably the type of discrimination, who did it and when. The judge said that there are “no allegations regarding who perpetrated any alleged discrimination,” noting that the lawsuit describes conduct or statements by several executives over the years.

“When stripped of McDonald’s discriminatory history, the vague allegations are that at an unspecified time, plaintiffs and African-American franchisees were steered to economically unattractive locations,” the lawsuit said.

In addition, the judge in his ruling said that Illinois’ two-year statute of limitation on personal injury lawsuits has passed, given that the last acquisition either of the Byrds had made was in 2012.

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