Black McDonald's franchise owners launch 90-day protest at company headquarters, alleging discrimination

Brothers James and Darrell Byrd, both franchise owners, filed a class-action lawsuit against the chain in October

Change is on the menu.

Activists have launched a 90-day protest at McDonald’s corporate headquarters in Chicago, demanding that the chain recognize and end the systematic racism they say has denied equal opportunities to Black franchisees.

On Monday, organizers gathered at the restaurant’s HQ in the West Loop neighborhood to begin a planned three months of picketing, the Chicago Sun-Times reports. The action preceded a Feb. 23 meeting between brothers and franchise owners James and Darrell Byrd of Memphis, and McDonald’s executives.

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According to the outlet, the Byrd brothers filed a class-action lawsuit against the world’s biggest restaurant chain in October, claiming that McDonald’s expansion through the years has been "predatory in nature" against Black-owned franchises.

"The right thing is not being done to African American operators in America with our company," Darrell Byrd was quoted as saying. "I’m still trying to figure out why? Why am I struggling? Why am I paying higher rents for my restaurants? Why am I paying a greater fee to be in the same business as my White counterpart?"

Today, the Byrd brothers each own two franchises, but each once operated many more. James has been a McDonald’s franchisee for 31 years and at one point ran 10 restaurants, while Darrell has been a franchisee for 22 years and once ran four locations. James alleges that McDonald’s closed some of his branches through the years after the fast-food powerhouse "deemed them to be of no value," which he says happened to other Black franchise owners, too.

McDonald’s has about 186 Black-owned franchises across the U.S. today, a plunge from about 337 in the late 1990s, he said. There’s also an annual cash flow gap of $900,000 between Black and White franchise operators, to the tune of $2 million versus $2.9 million, he added.

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The Byrds further allege that costs for Black operators is far greater than White counterparts, with Black franchise operators paying higher costs for security and insurance, among other costs, after McDonald's had approved those operators to open only in economically distressed communities, per the Sun-Times.

Now, the Byrds are urging McDonald’s to invest in Black-owned restaurants to bring the number of Black-owned franchises back up to 337, or create a "minority franchise fund" that will invest at least $500 million into a new group of franchises. The brothers also hope that McDonald’s will relax its restrictions and inspections that, they allege, are used to sometimes break franchise agreements.

The protests follow a suit filed last week by Herbert Washington, a former Major League Baseball player and Black franchise owner who alleges that the McDonald’s discriminated against him by keeping his restaurants out of affluent areas, creating a $700,000 difference in sales.

McDonald’s has since announced plans to diversify its leadership following allegations of racial discrimination.

McDonald’s has since announced plans to diversify its leadership following allegations of racial discrimination. (iStock)

When reached for comment by Fox News on Tuesday, a spokesperson for McDonald’s shared a statement on behalf of Reggie Miller, Global Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer.

"McDonald’s takes it commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion seriously and does not tolerate discrimination of any kind. We are working toward our recent DEI goals and continue to drive equitable opportunity under the Arches," Miller said. "We must go further and remain focused on serious action to accelerate meaningful and overdue societal change."

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McDonald’s, meanwhile, had also recently announced plans to diversify leadership following allegations of racial discrimination.

Fox News' Paul Best contributed to this report.