- McDonald’s CEO was recently criticized for a text he sent to Chicago’s mayor.
- One Black franchisee and ex-executives say that the text is part of a bigger problem.
- The CEO has talked with Black franchisees over the past week, The Wall Street Journal reported.
Some former McDonald’s executives and a Black franchisee are criticizing McDonald’s CEO Chris Kempczinski for a text he sent Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot in April.
On April 19, CEO Chris Kempczinski sent a text message to Lightfoot that said: “p.s. tragic shootings in last week, both at our restaurant yesterday and with Adam Toldeo. With both, the parents failed those kids which I know is something you can’t say. Even harder to fix.”
He was referring to the fatal shootings of 7-year-old Jaslyn Adams and 13-year-old Adam Toledo. Adams was killed in her father’s car outside a Chicago-area McDonald’s, while Toledo, whose name Kempczinski misspelled in the text, was fatally shot by a police officer.
The message to Lightfoot, who had visited McDonald’s headquarters in Chicago earlier that day, was revealed in a Freedom of Information Act request and first reported by WBEZ Chicago.
Two former McDonald’s executives said they believed the message was part of a pattern of racism at the fast-food chain.
“Kempczinski’s text and comments to Mayor Lightfoot were not a one-off mistake,” Domineca Neal, former McDonald’s Vice President of Operations and Franchising said in a public statement. “He wasn’t having a bad day when he texted the Mayor; that was the real Christopher Kempczinski. He made blatantly racist statements in his official capacity as President of McDonald’s USA, because he believes he can say whatever he wants to and about African Americans, no matter what people think,” Neal said.
McDonald’s declined to comment on remarks from Neal and others cited in this story.
Neal and McDonald’s Operations Officer Victoria Guster-Hines are part of a federal lawsuit against McDonald’s that names Kempczinski and former CEO Steve Easterbrook as defendants. The lawsuit, which was filed last year, says it aims to “redress intentional race discrimination, disparate treatment, disparate impact, hostile work environment, and unlawful retaliation,” against Black McDonald’s employees.
“Kempczinski’s recent text exchange with the Mayor reinforces his disposition towards racial discrimination. It’s a sad reminder of his inherent leadership style and a true slap in the face to African Americans,” Guster-Hines said in a statement.
“Domineca and I cannot let Kempczinski get away with trying to dodge his racist comments about the tragic murder of an innocent Black child. He thinks her parents ‘failed her’ by taking her for a meal at a McDonald’s drive-thru? No matter the context, his own words consistently demonstrate racism,” Guster-Hines continued.
McDonald’s has disputed the claims in the lawsuit.
“At McDonald’s, our actions are rooted in our belief that a diverse, vibrant, inclusive, and respectful company makes us stronger,” the company said after the lawsuit was filed.
Kempczinski sent a note viewed by Insider to US employees last week apologizing for the text.
“When I wrote this, I was thinking through my lens as a parent and reacted viscerally. But I have not walked in the shoes of Adam’s or Jaslyn’s family and so many others who are facing a very different reality,” he wrote. “Not taking the time to think about this from their viewpoint was wrong, and lacked the empathy and compassion I feel for these families. This is a lesson that I will carry with me.”
Since then, he has attended a series of listening sessions with franchisees, suppliers, and employees, a person with knowledge of these conversations told Insider, with a session on Monday to share reflections on this situation, plus dozens of conversations with community leaders and employees.
On Saturday, Kempczinski released a nearly six-minute-long video viewed by Insider, in which he apologized for the text because of what he called “a very narrow world view.”
“Those comments were wrong, and I am sorry. I am sorry I let you down. And I let myself down,” Kempczinski said in the video viewed by Insider.
Some said the text casts doubts on Kempczinski’s leadership.
There are “concerns about his lack of judgment on this sensitive issue. It calls into question his competency to run the company,” said a former senior executive who asked to remain anonymous, but whose identity is known by Insider.
A Black franchisee, who asked to remain anonymous over fears of retaliation, said, “He should not be in charge of a global iconic brand. He is in over his head.”
Others have alleged racial discrimination at McDonald’s. In 2020, more than 50 Black franchisees filed a $1 billion racial-discrimination lawsuit claiming the company “systematically steered” Black owners to buy underperforming stores. A Black ex-manager also recently filed a complaint stating that she was fired for reporting racial discrimination.
McDonald’s has denied the allegations of the Black franchisees and said it is reviewing the recent complaint from the manager.
“We do not tolerate discrimination or retaliation of any kind by anyone. We take these claims seriously and will review the allegations and take action accordingly,” McDonald’s told Insider in response to the recent complaint.
Editor’s note: This story previously misidentified Toledo’s ethnicity. Toledo was Latino.
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