Insiders say 'gross and dirty' behavior by a former head of HR at McDonald's sparked internal concerns long before his ouster in late 2019

Insiders say 'gross and dirty' behavior by a former head of HR at McDonald's sparked internal concerns long before his ouster in late 2019
Former McDonald's executives are under fire.Noam Galai/Getty Images
  • A former head of human resources at McDonald's is facing renewed scrutiny as McDonald's sues its former CEO Steve Easterbrook.
  • Heidi Capozzi, the current HR head at McDonald's, revealed during an internal meeting last week that David Fairhurst was fired in November for making women at the company feel uncomfortable.
  • One former corporate staffer said he was disturbed by what he saw as Fairhurst's "gross and dirty" behavior when he was at the company, saying it sparked questions as to how seriously the company took HR complaints.
  • McDonald's has seen internal shake-ups on its HR team recently, including the abrupt departure of Melanie Steinbach a month after she was promoted to the head of HR in the US.
  • McDonald's declined to comment further on the departures of Fairhurst and Steinbach.

A former head of human resources at McDonald's is facing renewed scrutiny as the fast-food giant sues its former CEO Steve Easterbrook.

According to notes from a company town hall last week viewed by Business Insider, the company's current head of HR, Heidi Capozzi, said that she and CEO Chris Kempczinski were committed "to the idea of transparency." While Capozzi said she was limited in some ways because of privacy concerns, she could share that her predecessor David Fairhurst was fired for cause based on an internal investigation.

Fairhurst was fired after making female McDonald's employees feel "uncomfortable on numerous occasions at business events," Capozzi said during the meeting, as first reported by The Wall Street Journal.
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Fairhurst left McDonald's in November, shortly after the company terminated Easterbrook.

Both Easterbrook and Fairhurst started their careers in the company's UK office. Both were known for drinking with McDonald's employees after work, The Journal reported in January.

Stories about Fairhurst drinking with employees — including younger female staffers — sparked rumors and ethical concerns, current and former employees and franchisees told Business Insider.
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One holiday party in late 2018 prompted an investigation into Fairhurst's behavior. The head of HR was spotted pulling a female employee onto his lap, internal sources told Business Insider. The Journal reports that McDonald's investigated the incident, ultimately telling employees that such excessive drinking was inappropriate.

Fairhurst did not respond to Business Insider's request for comment. McDonald's declined to comment further on Fairhurst's exit.

When the head of HR is misbehaving, how can employees report concerns?

Personal experiences as well as recent reporting about Fairhurst have made current and former McDonald's employees and franchisees question the work of the McDonald's HR department in recent years.
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A former franchisee questioned how the McDonald's HR team could have carried out corporate restructuring in a fair manner when the department was led by Fairhurst.

The Journal recently reported that some former employees said HR leaders under Fairhurst ignored internal complaints and that employees feared retaliation if they reported others' actions to HR. A former franchisee told Business Insider these reports of misconduct now colored his view of the company's 2018 corporate restructuring.

One former corporate staffer told Business Insider he was disturbed by what he saw as Fairhurst's "gross and dirty" behavior while drinking, which he saw firsthand. If the head of HR was getting drunk with female staffers, he asked, how could anyone expect HR complaints to be taken seriously?
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A current corporate employee said that Fairhurst was known for partying with subordinates several levels below him at the company but that it was seen as more "sad" than "gross." She said he was widely respected within the company before his departure. This employee said she was not worried about Fairhurst's behavior impeding HR reports, in part because it would be rare for Fairhurst to handle a complaint alone.

"We just thought he was a sad man who drank too much and weirdly didn't have friends outside of people who worked for him," she said.

Executive shake-ups continue on McDonald's HR team

Insiders say 'gross and dirty' behavior by a former head of HR at McDonald's sparked internal concerns long before his ouster in late 2019
McDonald's ex-CEO Steve Easterbrook.Getty Images
Concerns about the McDonald's HR department carry extra weight, as McDonald's recently filed a lawsuit claiming that Easterbrook engaged in multiple sexual relationships with employees during his time as CEO.
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McDonald's sued Easterbrook earlier in August, accusing the CEO of covering up sexual relationships with three McDonald's employees during his last year leading the company. According to the McDonald's complaint, after receiving an anonymous tip in July investigators found dozens of sexually explicit photos of these employees attached to an email Easterbrook sent himself.

McDonald's terminated Easterbrook "without cause" in November 2019, after investigating a consensual relationship between the CEO and another female staffer.

Investigators said that McDonald's did not know of any other inappropriate relationships at the time and that Easterbrook denied having sexual relationships with other employees. The company is now suing Easterbrook to try to claw back his multimillion-dollar severance package.
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McDonald's said last week it was also investigating whether Easterbrook covered up misconduct by other executives, as well as allegations into the HR department during Easterbrook's time as CEO. McDonald's said in a statement that its board would "follow the facts wherever they may lead."

McDonald's announced in March that Capozzi, formerly the head of HR at Boeing, would replace Fairhurst as the new global chief people officer. Melissa Kersey, who served as the head of HR in the US, left the company in late June. With Kersey's departure, McDonald's announced Melanie Steinbach would be promoted to the position of chief people officer in the US and Shammara Howell would take Steinbach's place as chief talent officer.
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A month after she was promoted to the head of US HR and shortly after McDonald's filed its lawsuit against Easterbrook, Steinbach abruptly parted ways with the company. Before her departure earlier in August, her corporate email automatic reply indicated she was on "medical leave." She did not respond to Business Insider's multiple requests for comment. McDonald's declined to comment on her departure.

Capozzi began a "top-to-bottom" review of the HR department after starting as global chief people officer in April, according to an executive.

When McDonald's filed its lawsuit against Easterbrook, Capozzi sent out a reminder on how employees can report "concerns about behavior that is not in line with our values," according to a message viewed by Business Insider. In last week's town hall, Capozzi again told employees to share any concerns they might have and said the company had policies to prevent discrimination.
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If you work or worked at McDonald's and have a story to share, email ktaylor@businessinsider.com.

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