Last year Mr Steve Easterbrook, the British corporate star who turned around McDonald’s, was fired and the American food giant stated that it was because he had displayed “poor judgment” by having had a consensual relationship with a junior employee. Mr Easterbrook admitted making a “mistake” but some felt losing his high-powered job might have been harsh happening as it did amid the high-profile MeToo saga.
However McDonald’s has now gone public with accusations that Mr Easterbrook had three additional sexual relationships with employees in the space of a year. They accused the former chief executive of deleting evidence and lying to company investigators about the relationships so he could leave with £35 million in severance pay. Recovered by investigators the purported evidence suggested Mr Easterbrook had used his work email account to forward dozens of sexually explicit photographs and videos of the women involved to his personal account.
He was also alleged to have approved a grant of shares to a female employee while they were in a sexual relationship, the grant was worth thousands of dollars. McDonald’s are now suing Mr Easterbrook for fraud and breach of fiduciary duty and demanding its $40 million back. Filed in a Delaware court they have stated, as part of a 20-page document, that he violated the fast-food company’s “wholesome and family-oriented” image.
Watford-born Mr Easterbrook, 53, attended Watford Grammar School and Durham University and joined McDonald’s in 1992. He became chief executive in 2015 when the company’s share of the fast-food market was in decline and introduced initiatives such as touchscreen ordering and all-day breakfasts. With him at the helm McDonald’s share price doubled. In 2015 Mr Easterbrook and his wife Susie divorced and he moved to the US.
McDonald’s said last October it learnt of an allegation that Mr Easterbrook had engaged in an “inappropriate personal relationship” with a woman referred to as “Employee 1”. The woman confirmed it at the time saying it was “entirely consensual” and consisted of text messages and video calls over a few weeks but stipulating that it “never included a physical relationship”. Mr Easterbrook was interviewed and gave a similar account and his mobile phone was searched. The company claimed he denied having had a sexual relationship with any employee. The board fired him on November 2019 but agreed to a separation package. At that point his annual earnings had been more than $15 million (£12 million) per annum.
According to court documents the company received a tip-off alleging a staff member, “Employee 2”, had a sexual relationship with Mr Easterbrook. It is alleged that an investigation then found, “photographic evidence that he had a sexual relationship not only with Employee 2, but with two other employees in the year before he left. That evidence consisted of dozens of nude, partially nude, or sexually explicit photographs and videos of various women, including photographs of these company employees.”
McDonald’s commented that there was “undisputable evidence” that he had repeatedly violated a company ban on any intimate relationship between employees. Details later emerged that Mr Easterbrook had approved shares worth hundreds of thousands of dollars to an employee, “shortly after a first sexual encounter and within days of their second,” it was alleged.
McDonald’s said it would not have agreed separation terms had it known claimed Mr Easterbrook had been, “knowingly untruthful or that he had concealed evidence and lied about his wrongdoing and destroyed information.”