A former McDonald’s chief executive has asked a US court to dismiss the company’s lawsuit against him for allegedly having sexual relationships with employees.
The fast food giant sued Stephen Easterbrook, who grew up in Watford, Hertfordshire, last week in an attempt to reclaim millions of dollars in compensation paid to him following his firinglast November.
He was sacked after he admitted to exchanging videos and text messages in a consensual, non-physical relationship with an employee, which a search of his phone confirmed.
Mr Easterbrook, 52, was allowed to keep more than $42m (£32m) in stock-based benefits after he said the relationship was consensual but admitted it violated company rules.
He also received 26 weeks of pay, amounting to about $670,000 (£503,000).
McDonald’s said it conducted another investigation last month after it received an anonymous tip that Mr Easterbrook had a physical relationship with another employee.
The company alleges it has since found that its former chief executive had sexual relationships with three employees and destroyed the evidence.
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McDonald’s board said it would not have agreed to Mr Easterbrook’s separation agreement if it had that information when he was fired.
The company has also accused him of approving an “extraordinary” stock grant worth hundreds of thousands of dollars for one of the employees during their alleged affair.
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In a response filed at Delaware Chancery Court, Mr Easterbrook said McDonald’s hired outside lawyers to investigate his conduct, including interviewing employees and reviewing electronic information, before it signed off on his severance package.
“McDonald’s is improperly attempting to get out of its bargain nine months after the fact and despite admitting it always possessed the information upon which is it now relying,” said his response.
Mr Easterbrook also claims the case should be tried in Illinois, where McDonald’s is based in Chicago, not Delaware.
McDonald’s rejected his arguments on Monday, with a spokesman saying: “McDonald’s stands by its complaint, both the factual assertions and the court in which it was filed.”
Mr Easterbrook and his wife, who have three children together, divorced in 2015, the same year he took up the top job.
He was believed to have been earning $15.9m (£12m) a year and is credited with turning the ageing fast food chain’s fortunes around, nearly doubling its value as he switched to cage-free eggs, antibiotic-free chicken and hormone-free milk.
Workers’ pay was also raised above the minimum wage under Mr Easterbrook and he gave different regions more control over their menus.
McDonald’s, like many US companies, has a zero tolerance policy with regards to secret sexual relationships.