A former VP in charge of security for McDonald’s CEO Chris Kempczinski and other top executives has sued the company for discrimination, saying that he was the victim of a hostile work environment arising from comments he made during a public forum more than a year ago.
Michael Peaster, who had been VP of global safety, security and intelligence, argues that he was the victim of a year-long hostile work environment before he was subsequently fired last month.
Peaster, who is Black, argues that the treatment was rooted in comments he made contradicting Kempczinski during a public forum a year earlier, following the CEO’s apology for texts he sent to Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot placing blame for the shootings of two children in the city on the victims’ parents.
McDonald’s, however, said Peaster was promoted shortly after that meeting and that he was terminated because of “serious performance issues in his expanded role.”
“The claims run completely afoul of the facts and the values our leadership team and company uphold,” the company said. “As stated in the complaint, Mr. Peaster was promoted in January 2022. However, he was subsequently terminated due to serious performance issues in his expanded role. To suggest that his termination was based on retaliation or anything other than performance lapses is to completely ignore the facts.
“We intend to vigorously defend against this lawsuit and to continue to lead with our values.”
According to the lawsuit, however, Peaster was “re-promoted” into a position he held years earlier. His re-promotion did not involve any job changes, however.
Kempczinski apologized in November 2021 after a text he sent to Lightfoot was made public. He was addressing two separate shooting deaths of children in the city, one in a McDonald’s drive-thru and another by a police officer. The texts led to enormous criticism of the CEO.
It also intensified mounting complaints that the company discriminates against Black executives, franchisees and vendors. The company has been the subject of numerous lawsuits accusing management of discrimination.
Peaster was a 35-year veteran of the company. During a public forum after Kempczinski’s apology, according to the lawsuit, Peaster “rebuked” a response by Kempczinski to an employee who wondered about those who agreed with the CEO’s text. Kempczinski had said people have “to look at your values, and then make the right decision.”
Peaster, however, responded at the forum that, “To those who agreed with Christopher Kempczinski’s comments, think about their fellow employees who are in the room who live in the neighborhoods being discussed,” the lawsuit says, adding that the comments were greeted with applause.
Peaster was promoted less than two months later and was the officer responsible for Kempczinski’s personal security, according to the lawsuit. He was part of the global legal group and reported to General Counsel Desiree Ralls-Morrison.
The lawsuit says Kempczinski publicly ignored Peaster over the subsequent months despite the promotion. The lawsuit says Kempczinski “intentionally avoided Peaster” and at one point did not publicly recognize Peaster during a recognition of all new corporate officers.
The lawsuit says the company refused Peaster’s request to increase the security budget and ignored his recommendation that Kempczinski should get executive protection services.
He also accuses the company of refusing to fill open positions, arguing that the company was setting him up to take a fall. The lawsuit also says Kempczinski refused to meet with Peaster to discuss security issues the following June. The lawsuit says Peaster was refused a seat on the corporate jet during a trip to Latin America, though he was to provide security for that trip. The corporate security officer traditionally flies with the top executives on the jet.
Issues between the company and Peaster appeared to come to a head on Oct. 26, when labor union activists apparently entered a ballroom at a meeting in New York City where Kempczinski was present. The CEO then complained about inadequate security, according to the lawsuit. Ralls-Morrison blamed Peaster for the lack of security.
Peaster was fired Nov. 7, effective Dec. 31, because Ralls-Morrison “lost confidence in his ability to protect the CEO.” He was fired nearly one year to the day after Kempczinski’s apology over those texts.
UPDATE: This story has been changed from its previous version to provide additional clarification and some new information.
Members help make our journalism possible. Become a Restaurant Business member today and unlock exclusive benefits, including unlimited access to all of our content. Sign up here.