The chief executive office of the Chicago-based fast food empire McDonald’s is drawing sharp criticism from community leaders and activist groups for appearing to blame the parents of two local children who were fatally shot last spring during a text conversation with Mayor Lori Lightfoot.
“With both, the parents failed those kids which I know is something you can’t say,” Chris Kempczinski wrote to Lightfoot on April 19. The exchange was released last week through a Freedom of Information Act request, according to the Tribune and multiple other news sources. Kempczinski’s message refers to the deaths of Jaslyn Adams, a 7-year-old who was killed in a shooting in April in a drive-thru lane at a West Side McDonald’s, and Adam Toledo, a 13-year-old who was fatally shot by a Chicago police officer in March in Little Village. WBEZ first reported this story.
Kempczinski and Lightfoot reportedly met in person for the first time at McDonald’s headquarters in West Loop the day after Adams was killed. “Thanks, Chris. Great to see you in person,” Lightfoot replied via text at the time. “I would be happy reach out to the operator to offer support. He and his team members have got to be traumatized. Terrible tragedy. Thanks again, Chris.”
Lightfoot’s office on Tuesday issued a statement decrying Kempczinski’s comment, the Trib reported, writing that tragedies can still happen to supportive families. Kempczinski acknowledged the release of his text messages the same day in a contrite note sent to McDonald’s U.S. corporate employees. He explained his thought process, but did not include an apology.
“When I wrote this, I was thinking through my lens as a parent and reacted viscerally,” Kempczinsk wrote. “Not taking the time to think about this from their viewpoint was wrong, and lacked the empathy and compassion I feel for these families. This is a lesson that I will carry with me.”
Community leaders feel the CEO’s response was “a little too late,” Little Village Community Council President Baltazar Enriquez told reporters. Enriquez’s group is among a dozen organizations that have signed an open letter to Kempczinski asking him to hold meetings and explain how he intends to address systemic racism at McDonald’s. They have also planned a Wednesday protest at the company’s West Loop headquarters.
Text between Lightfoot and the McDonalds CEO, Chris Kempczinski, after Lightfoot visited the McDonalds HQ earlier this year. Kempczinski blamed Adam Toledo's parents for his death.— Matt Chapman (@foiachap) October 26, 2021
(ht to@Mikepkes for getting these records from FOIA) pic.twitter.com/J2vFxnkMul
McDonald’s corporate office has been forced to learn lots of lessons over the past few years. A string of plaintiffs ranging from franchisees to former senior executives have brought lawsuits against the company alleging anti-Black discrimination while the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed a suit in September over allegations of sexual harassment by a prolific franchise owner.
Charges of on-the-job harassment have apparently become a theme for the company as former and current employees have increasingly come forward to share their experiences, compounded by the 2019 firing of Kempczinski’s predecessor, ex-CEO Steve Easterbrook, over claims of lying, fraud, and concealing evidence of sexual misconduct at work. In October, Chicago-area McDonald’s workers joined a national 12-city protest to criticize the company’s handling of sexual harassment complaints and calling on workers to unionize.