- Former McDonald's CEO Steve Easterbrook has responded to McDonald's lawsuit against him, which seeks to take back Easterbrook's severance package — now estimated to be worth around $57 million — following a second internal investigation into his behavior. That probe allegedly surfaced dozens of nude or sexually explicit photos of employees and evidence that he had three additional relationships with employees. In a court filing Friday, Easterbrook's attorney Daniel Herr claimed that McDonald's was aware of his relationships with other employees when it granted his exit benefits, and that the company said it stored Easterbrook's email account on company servers during the first investigation of his conduct in October 2019, The Wall Street Journal reports.
- “Based on the very same information McDonald’s has today, it negotiated a separation agreement,” Easterbrook’s attorney stated in the filing, WSJ reports. “But McDonald’s admits that the ‘new’ information it now relies upon is not new at all.”
- In response to McDonald's claims that Easterbrook gave a special stock grant to an employee he was sexually involved with, Herr said in the filing that the company was aware of and approved the grant based on the employee's performance. The award was worth "hundreds of thousand of dollars," according to the suit.
Easterbrook's attorney argues that because McDonald's had possession of his emails back in October — according to the former CEO's claims — the restaurant doesn't have grounds to accuse Easterbrook of breaking his severance agreement with the company. Easterbrook cannot respond to McDonald's suit publicly because he agreed not to sue McDonald's or make negative comments about the company per his exit negotiations, according to Herr.
This further muddies the waters of McDonald's initial investigation, and raises questions about why a restaurant chain with significant financial muscle and resources could not find the deleted emails and photos — which were discovered after the company received an anonymous tip in July — during its initial investigation last October. The anonymous tipster came forward nine months after Easterbrook was fired.
"McDonald's is improperly attempting to get out of its bargain nine months after the fact and despite admitting it always possessed the information upon which it is now relying," Easterbrook said in the filing, according to Law360.
But McDonald's suit argues the opposite.
"Easterbrook's silence and lies — a clear breach of the duty of candor — were calculated to induce the company to separate him on terms much more favorable to him than those the company would have offered and agreed to had it known the full truth of his behavior," the suit states.
"McDonald’s stands by its complaint, both the factual assertions and the court in which it was filed," the company said in a statement to multiple media outlets.
McDonald's appeared to be transparent in July with its findings from the second investigation, revealing where the company failed in its initial probe, as well as providing several details about Easterbrook's alleged relationships with company employees. However, if Easterbrook's allegations are proven true, it could be another blow to the company's reputation, which has already been hit with several sexual harassment infractions.
Even if McDonald's is unable to recoup the costs of Easterbrook's severance package, the company's recent moves to show that it is trying to change its culture could be a positive step forward for the fast food chain. Last year it announced an anonymous sexual harassment hotline and mandatory training for workers. However, The Nation reported the training is only required at its corporate-owned stores, which is less than 5% of the chain's restaurants.