Herb Washington, who played for the Oakland Athletics in the 1970s and went on to build the biggest Black-owned McDonald's franchise operation in the US, is now suing the fast food behemoth for alleged racial discrimination. Washington says Black franchisees are pushed toward restaurants in poor neighborhoods that don't perform as well, and that McDonald's also makes it more difficult for Black franchise owners to renew their contracts and pressures them to sell to white franchisees. "I can’t breathe," the 69-year-old, who became a franchisee at 29, tells the Washington Post. "The corporate knee of McDonald’s has been on my neck for 40 years." His lawsuit comes on the heels of 52 Black former franchise owners suing McDonald's last fall and a huge wave of Black franchisees exiting the business.
Just 186 McDonald's franchisees are Black, compared to 377 in 1998. "These numbers are not a coincidence; they are the result of McDonald’s intentionally racist policies and practices toward Black franchisees," Washington says in his lawsuit. McDonald's, for its part, claims it "invested significantly in [Washington's] organization" and gave him "multiple opportunities over several years to address" issues involving "years of mismanagement," the Detroit News reports. It also says, per Mahoning Matters, that 30% of its franchisees are "ethnically diverse" and it is working to recruit an even more diverse group. Washington, who owned 27 stores at one point in his career, currently owns 14. He says McDonald's started retaliating against him, including forcing him to sell seven stores to white owners, after he started speaking out against the company's "predatory, racially biased steering practices" in 2017. (Read more McDonald's stories.)