McDonald’s said it was investigating whether Steve Easterbrook covered up impropriety by other employees as part of a probe into the fast-food chain’s former chief executive.
Directors and outside legal counsel are also examining allegations of misconduct within the human resources department under Mr Easterbrook, who was fired last November after McDonald’s found he had engaged in a consensual romantic relationship with a colleague.
The developments in the investigation, first reported by The Wall Street Journal, come during legal action McDonald’s has taken against Mr Easterbrook, who it claims lied about relationships with several staff members.
“The board will follow the facts wherever they may lead,” McDonald’s said in a statement on Tuesday. “We will continue to make changes, where necessary, to support all parts of our organisation.”
David Fairhurst, head of human resources, left the company one day after Mr Easterbrook. He was terminated for cause for conduct inconsistent with McDonald’s values, the company said on Tuesday.
Heidi Capozzi was drafted in from Boeing in the spring to replace him. She has been undertaking a review of McDonald’s human resources, including an assessment of its broader culture, company executives said.
McDonald’s originally treated Mr Easterbrook’s departure last year as a termination “without cause”, which allowed him to receive severance benefits worth an estimated $40m.
However, McDonald’s, now led by chief executive Chris Kempczinski, said this month it had reopened the investigation into Mr Easterbrook after it received an anonymous report in July that he had engaged in another sexual relationship with an employee.
The second investigation uncovered evidence that he had had several such relationships. McDonald’s sued Mr Easterbrook, alleging he had misled the company and deleted materials from his corporate email account.
In his response, Mr Easterbrook’s lawyer described the legal action as “meritless”, arguing that the Delaware chancery court, where the Illinois-based company filed its lawsuit, was the wrong legal forum. The response also said that the “new” details McDonald’s claimed to have uncovered in its widened probe were in its possession all along, as the alleged evidence was stored on the company’s email servers.
CtW Investment Group, a union-backed critic of McDonald’s with a small stake in the company, has argued that the original investigation into Mr Easterbrook’s behaviour last year, conducted by outside legal counsel, was not extensive enough.
It has called for Enrique Hernandez Jr, McDonald’s chairman, and Richard Lenny, the head of its compensation committee, to resign.
McDonald’s has said it never would have agreed to Mr Easterbrook’s departure package had it known about the scope of his alleged behaviour.