- Michael Peaster, McDonald’s outgoing vice president of global safety, security and intelligence, is suing the chain and CEO Chris Kempczinski for alleged racial discrimination, according to a lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for Northern District of Illinois Eastern Division.
- Peaster, a Black man, was terminated on Nov. 7, 2022, effective Dec. 31, about a year after he publicly contradicted some of Kempczinski’s remarks on race. McDonald’s said in an emailed statement that it had not retaliated or discriminated against Peaster, and that he was fired for “serious performance issues.”
- McDonald’s has faced a number of anti-discrimination suits during Kempczinski’s tenure, including suits by Black franchisees, Black workers, and Black executives alleging the chain discriminated against them on the basis of race.
Peaster’s suit alleges that Kempczinski retaliated against him after Peaster publicly contradicted the CEO at a townhall meeting held by the company. The meeting discussed racist text messages sent by Kempczinski, a White man, to the mayor of Chicago, Lori Lightfoot, a Black woman. Kempczinski’s texts blamed the parents of a Black child who was killed at a McDonald’s for the child’s death. The McDonald’s CEO held a meeting at the company’s headquarters, according to the complaint, to discuss the text messages.
When asked by an employee what he would say to those who agreed with the sentiment of his text messages, Kempczinski replied, “I would say you would have to look at your values and then make the right decision,” according to the complaint.
According to the complaint, Peaster then told Kempczinski at the meeting, “We cannot broad brush the violence issues in Chicago to make it appear that all parents who have children who are victims to gun violence are bad parents. We have to have empathy and compassion for the majority of families who live in tough communities that work hard to provide for their family and keep them safe.”
McDonald’s said the complaint was not accurate and that the chain will vigorously contest the suit.
“The claims run completely afoul of the facts and the values our leadership team and company uphold,” the company said in a statement. “[Peaster] was subsequently terminated due to serious performance issues in his expanded role.”
In January 2022, Peaster was promoted to a position that included responsibility for Kempczinski’s security detail. Peaster alleges this is when the retaliation against him began. The suit claims Kempczinski ignored Peaster and humiliated him in public meetings, and that the company’s general counsel, Desiree Ralls-Morrison, made it difficult for Peaster’s office to adequately ensure the safety of the company’s executives. Peaster said Kempczinski intentionally failed to mention him at a meeting recognizing newly promoted officers at the company, and that Ralls-Morrison prevented Peaster from hiring qualified personnel to fill vacancies.
According to the suit, McDonald’s criticized Peaster’s performance after pro-labor activists managed to get into a hotel ballroom in which Kempczinski was present. Peaster said the activists did not pose a violent threat to Kempczinski’s safety.
Peaster’s suit says he suffered economic loss, emotional distress and reputational harm and seeks damages, including punitive damages.
Following a rash of anti-discrimination lawsuits in 2020 and 2021, McDonald’s agreed in June to conduct a third-party civil rights audit, after shareholders voted in favor of the measure.