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Fast food giant accused of discrimination, wrongful firing

Calling it "just the tip of the iceberg," a commentator on a recent lawsuit filed in Virginia against fast-food pioneer McDonald's Corporation predicts that more litigation is forthcoming that will seek to hold corporate chains liable for the wrongdoing of their franchisees.

If that holds true, many workers in Massachusetts and across the country who suffer discriminatory conduct while at their workplace will have an expanded defendant pool to go after should they seek damages.

In the Virginia case filed last month, 10 plaintiffs -- both black and Hispanic workers -- alleged that their employer subjected them to both discriminatory and harassing conduct, all aimed at terminating them from their positions so that more white workers could be hired. The legal complaint filed by the workers quotes managers at the McDonald's as saying that they needed "to get the ghetto out of the store."

All the workers were fired and allege racially motivated wrongful termination. Although such conduct is clearly unlawful under both state and federal law, it can be questionable in such cases how far liability can stretch.

As an article noting the case states, corporate owners have historically argued they are immune from the illegal acts of their franchisees, since the latter are independent entities.

A large hole was blown in that reasoning recently, though, by a determination from the National Labor Relations Board that a corporate owner-- again, McDonald's -- is a "joint employer" that is liable for labor violations committed by a franchisee.

The current suit wants to extend that reasoning, with plaintiffs arguing that all McDonald's franchisees are "predominantly controlled" from the center, with their policies, rules and operational manuals all coming from the corporate parent.

We will track this litigation and be sure to report material developments that emerge to our readers.

Source: Time, "Why this McDonald's lawsuit could be big trouble for fast food," Victor Luckerson, Jan. 22, 2015

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