Washington’s case against McDonald’s settled

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After McDonald’s Corp. paid $33.5 million to buy its former Rochester franchisee Herb Washington’s 13 remaining Ohio McDonald’s restaurants, Washington agreed drop his discrimination claim against the fast-food giant.

McDonald’s announcement of its deal with Washington signals the end of Washington’s federal discrimination complaint against the Chicago-based fast-food chain. He filed the claim last February in the Northern District of Ohio’s Eastern Division. 

In the complaint, Washington alleged that McDonald’s has systematically discriminated against him and other Black franchisees by closing them out of opportunities to acquire and keep the franchises in the most profitable locations.

Records in the Ohio federal court where Washington pressed his claim against McDonald’s show that the parties agreed to drop the case Dec. 17 with no possibility of reviving the complaint.

Washington, long a well-known figure in Rochester as a successful entrepreneur, chair of the Buffalo Federal Reserve and onetime Major League Baseball player, sold his four Monroe County McDonald’s franchises in 1997 to purchase 25 of the fast-food chain’s franchises in Ohio. 

A Michigan native with no previous ties to Rochester, Washington claimed in court papers that he built his first McDonald’s franchise in an inner-city Rochester neighborhood because that was the only location that McDonald’s would agree to ink a deal with him on. 

In this court complaint, Washington claimed that he made the move to Ohio after McDonald’s froze him out of opportunities to expand in this area and that such expansion was key to his success as a fast-food operator.  

“Owning multiple stores … allows a franchisee to maintain sufficient cash flow across all stores to weather unexpected expenses at any one location and to make customary investments in facilities and equipment,” Washington’s court brief explained. “Owning many stores also allows franchisees to absorb the financial impact of McDonald’s initiatives and mandates, from offering certain products to overhauling the entire physical appearance of the store.”

After he relocated to Ohio, the court complaint alleged, McDonald’s forced Washington to whittle the size of his restaurant chain there by refusing to renew his franchise agreements to instead ink deals with white operators. 

McDonald’s countered in a statement released last February that it has offered much support and assistance to Washington, whose difficulties were “the result of years of mismanagement by Mr. Washington, whose organization has failed to meet many of our standards on people, operations, guest satisfaction and reinvestment. His restaurants have a public record of these issues including past health and sanitation concerns and some of the highest volumes of customer complaints in the country.”

In a Dec. 16 statement, McDonald’s said: “The court did not find that the company violated any laws. While we were confident in the strength of our case, this resolution aligns with McDonald’s values and enables us to continue focusing on our commitments to the communities that we serve.”

Typically, deals to settle complaints like Washington’s discrimination claim include agreements by the aggrieved party to not reveal the deal’s terms and to refrain from disparaging the object of their complaint.

Attorneys for Washington did not respond to a request for comment. 

Will Astor is Rochester Beacon senior writer.

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