Ewan and I had a great discussion last night on the PR & Law Podcast about the case of Steve Easterbrook, who was ousted as the CEO of McDonald’s in November of 2019 for having a consensual relationship with a McDonald’s employee. Consensual or not, he found himself in trouble because McDonald’s internal policies prohibited relationships with a large power dynamic at play. Easterbrook admitted that he made a mistake, apologized to staff, accepted a roughly $40 million dollar golden parachute, and went away. Case closed.
Easterbrook isn’t the first powerful male CEO to end up in scandal — it’s happened enough times that there’s already a PR playbook for it: oust the CEO, pay him to go away, and make announcements about moving on and doing better. That trusty playbook has long encouraged companies to get the embarrassing CEO out of the headlines as soon as possible, and thus limit any reputational damage to the company.
McDonald’s, though, is going a different direction. Earlier this month McDonald’s management was tipped off that Easterbrook didn’t just have one consensual relationship with a staffer — he possibly had as many as four within the span of a year. McDonald’s, which has been trying to clean up the office culture following several allegations of sexual harassment in recent years, has taken the unusual step of re-opening the case and demanding its money back.
I could write a lengthy post here about why this case is fascinating, what kind of signal this sends to future leaders and employees, and why it’s so risky for McDonald’s, but it’s much easier to listen to the discussion below.
If you’re into this kind of corporate drama, with its implication on both employment law and public relations, this is an episode you won’t want to miss.
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