Franchisee in Valley sues McDonald’s USA over racial issues

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)

YOUNGSTOWN — Herb Washington, who has operated McDonald’s restaurants for 40 years in New York, Ohio and western Pennsylvania, on Tuesday sued McDonald’s USA, alleging racial discrimination and retaliation against him as a black franchisee.

The civil rights lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court and is assigned to Judge Benita Pearson.

The 50-page complaint details his long history with the company, purchase of restaurants in the Rochester, N.Y., Youngstown and Cleveland areas and decline from once owning 27 restaurants to now owning 14.

Washington, who lives in Mahoning County, sued McDonald’s, “the world’s largest franchisor” to “hold it accountable” for its actions toward black franchisees, the suit states.

As an example of his treatment, the suit alleges that McDonalds “steered Mr. Washington into (restaurants) in distressed, predominantly black neighborhoods which — as McDonald’s well knew — yield considerably less profit than stores in more affluent communities.”

In a teleconference with reporters Tuesday afternoon and in the lawsuit, Washington and his lawyers said McDonald’s “tightly controls who may enter its system,” restricting who the franchisee can sell its restaurants to and forcing them to sell restaurants that do not meet certain standards.

“Just a few years ago, Mr. Washington was McDonald’s largest black franchisee in the nation,” the suit states.

“As part of its effort to reduce black ownership in its system, McDonald’s targeted Mr. Washington for unfair grading and assessments designed to render him ineligible to continue to operate his restaurants,” the suit states.

“It did so to force him to sell numerous stores to white franchisees.”

Washington protested the way he was being treated, but that “intensified McDonald’s campaign to drive him from its system,” the suit states.


Tuesday, McDonald’s USA issued a statement: “This situation is the result of years of mismanagement by Mr. Washington.”

McDonald’s USA said his restaurants “have a public record” of “health and sanitation concerns.”

The statement said Washington “has failed to meet many of our standards on people, operations, guest satisfaction and reinvestment.”

McDonalds USA stated that McDonald’s “does not place franchisees into specific franchises; while McDonald’s may recommend locations, franchisees ultimately select the locations they wish to purchase.”

“Between 2013 and today, there has been a reduction in the total number of franchisee organizations and employees at McDonald’s as part of restructuring efforts,” McDonald’s stated.

During the teleconference, when Washington was made aware of McDonald’s remarks about “health and sanitation concerns,” he said: “As to the claims McDonald’s may be making, I would say this: Treat me the same way you treated white operators that may have had similar situations. In an over 40-year span of time, you’re going to have a few speed bumps. I don’t care what career you’ve had.”

He said the remarks from McDonald’s are an attempt to “direct the narrative away from the bigger issue — the parity of the black and white owners in the system.”


Washington now owns 14 McDonald’s restaurants in Northeast Ohio and Western Pennsylvania.

He has seven Mahoning Valley restaurants — in Newton Falls, Mahoning Avenue and South Raccoon Road locations in Austintown, East Midlothian Boulevard in Youngstown, North Canfield Road in Mineral Ridge, Boardman Canfield Road in Boardman and Boardman Poland Road in Poland. He also has two restaurants in Hermitage, Pa., one in Sharon, Pa., one in Greenville, Pa., two in Cleveland and one in Euclid.

The suit states that one way McDonald’s has forced down the number of black franchisees from 377 in 1998 to 186 now was to give black restaurant owners too little time to carry out store remodels and then use that as “excuse to deem black franchisees ineligible for expansion” through acquiring additional restaurants.

The number of McDonald’s restaurants has more than doubled —from 15,086 to 38,999 — during that time, the suit states. Black owners average around $700,000 less in annual sales per store than white owners, the suit states.

Washington grew up in Flint, Mich., and attended Michigan State University on a track scholarship, narrowly missing the 1972 Olympic track team and later played for the Oakland Athletics Major League Baseball team from 1974-1975. Four years later, he became a McDonald’s franchisee.



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