McDonald’s Moves to Clean Slate as Activist Pressure Intensifies

By Leslie Patton | November 4, 2019

McDonald’s Corp., which just announced the departure of its star chief executive officer, is also losing its top human resources manager as the fast-food chain navigates pressure from politicians and activists.

David Fairhurst, who carried the title of global chief people officer, left the company, according to an internal memo sent Monday by newly minted CEO Chris Kempczinski, who is assuming the role vacated by Steve Easterbrook. Fairhurst had been with the chain for 15 years, and was promoted to the top HR job shortly after Easterbrook was named CEO in 2015.

Human resources moves at McDonald’s draw more scrutiny than at other big corporations, because the world’s largest restaurant company is seen as a bell weather for labor issues. Its size has made it the principle target of activist groups like Fight for $15 and the American Civil Liberties Union, who say McDonald’s has tolerated workplace harassment and ignored safety issues. They say the company has failed to prevent misconduct including groping, inappropriate comments from supervisors and retaliation for speaking up.

The company declined to comment on the nature of Fairhurst’s departure. Mason Smoot, a senior vice president who oversees strategic alignment and staff, will take his place on an interim basis.

Earlier this year and following an inquiry from U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth, McDonald’s said it was training workers to deal with harassment and starting a hotline for victims. In a response to Duckworth, an Illinois Democrat, Easterbrook said the company’s new strategy creates “a clear message that we are committed to creating and sustaining a culture of trust where employees feel safe, valued and respected.”

The pressure remains high, however, and there are signs that McDonald’s is taking note. The company recently said it would no longer oppose efforts to increase minimum wages — a stark contrast from its past position on the issue.

Fight for $15 said Easterbrook’s departure shows the company’s “culture is rotten from top to bottom.” The group called on McDonald’s to meet with victims of harassment and “put them at the center of any solution.”

The group also called on McDonald’s to be “completely transparent about Easterbrook’s firing and any other executive departures related to these issues.”

Easterbrook left McDonald’s for having a consensual relationship with another worker.

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