McDonald’s said Tuesday that its investigation into misconduct claims within the company now included whether its former chief executive, Steve Easterbrook, may have covered up inappropriate actions by other executives during his tenure. The company also said it was examining the actions of its human resources department.
“The board will follow the facts wherever they may lead,” a company spokesman said in a statement about the investigation, details of which were reported earlier by Bloomberg. The company declined to elaborate on what prompted these new questions or on other details of the investigation.
The company recently filed a lawsuit seeking to recoup tens of millions of dollars in compensation that Easterbrook was allowed to keep when he was fired in November.
McDonald’s dismissed Easterbrook after an employee notified the company that she had an inappropriate relationship with him. The employee said she was worried that she would end up getting punished for the monthlong consensual relationship. She said the relationship consisted of sexually explicit text messages, photographs, and at least one FaceTime call between herself and Easterbrook but was not physical.
McDonald’s hired outside lawyers to look into the accusations and to interview Easterbrook, who acknowledged the relationship. He told the lawyers that he had never engaged in a sexual relationship with an employee, and the company did not conduct a thorough review of his electronic records before dismissing him in November.
In the days following Easterbrook’s firing, the company’s human-resources chief, David Fairhurst, also departed. At the time, the company said that exit was not related to the investigation into Easterbrook’s relationship.
The spokesman said Tuesday that Fairhurst had been terminated for inappropriate conduct. He declined to describe the conduct or to say whether Fairhurst was the subject of the ongoing investigation regarding Easterbrook.
Neither Fairhurst nor a lawyer for Easterbrook could be immediately reached for comment.
In early November, the company addressed Easterbrook’s departure during a town-hall meeting. Rick Hernandez Jr., the chairman of McDonald’s board, emphasized that there was one standard of conduct that applied to all employees.
Last month, Hernandez received a tip from an employee who said that another employee had been telling colleagues that she had a sexual relationship with Easterbrook when he was the chief executive. The employee had been compelled to come forward because of Hernandez’s comments at the town hall, according to the company spokesman.
This prompted the current investigation by McDonald’s, which included a more thorough search of Easterbrook’s emails and produced the lawsuit against Easterbrook earlier this month. The company said it found “dozens of nude, partially nude, or sexually explicit photographs and videos of various women, including photographs of these company employees, that Easterbrook had sent as attachments to messages from his company email account to his personal email account,” according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit, which was filed in state court in Delaware, accuses him of lying, concealing evidence, and fraud. Lawyers for Easterbrook have filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, calling it “meritless and misleading.”
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