A piece in today’s Times. The conflation of men having sex with willing female colleagues, and sexual harassment, is beyond ludicrous. I wonder what it was about the multi-millionaire Steve Easterbrook which appealed to his female colleagues?
The British boss of McDonald’s led efforts to overhaul the fast food company’s policies on sexual harassment while allegedly having sexual relationships with three employees.
Steve Easterbrook, 53, the former chief executive, was accused by the company this week of covering up sexual relationships with junior staff by deleting intimate pictures from his phone and company email.
The Times can reveal that at the time of the allegations, Mr Easterbrook had written to US senators pledging to stamp out sexual harassment after a surge in staff complaints.
McDonald’s announced it was suing him this week for the return of more than $40 million in severance pay, which he was awarded last November after being sacked for having an inappropriate relationship with an employee. At the time the company said that he had violated its policies on work relationships.
McDonald’s said that a subsequent investigation has uncovered evidence that Mr Easterbrook, dubbed the Wizard from Watford after he doubled McDonald’s share value, had sexual relationships with three employees in the year before he was removed.
It also claimed that he gave shares worth hundreds of thousands of dollars to one of the women “shortly after their first sexual encounter and within days of their second”. [J4MB emphasis: Doubtless McDonald’s will be suing the woman for the value of the shares…] A former girlfriend of Mr Easterbrook said yesterday that she was “totally shocked” by the allegations against him, adding they were “in complete contrast to the gentleman that I knew”.
Denise Paleothodoros, 47, was in a romantic relationship with Mr Easterbrook from 2014 to 2018.
“Not once did he ever hint to me the idea of providing him with nude photos,” Ms Paleothodoros told The Times. “Instead, I was the woman who he was excited to introduce to his daughters.
“It was a side of him that I never knew and I don’t know whether this was new behaviour or something that preceded me. But it does not match the character I saw. I can only imagine the shame and embarrassment he will be feeling now, first and foremost for his three daughters. They mean the world to him.”
The pair met while Ms Paleothodoros was working as a PR executive for Golin on the McDonald’s account.
Ms Paleothodoros, who Mr Easterbrook referred to as his “life partner”, was taken on luxury holidays on a McDonald’s private plane and had planned to move into his $2.5 million home in Chicago.
She said that the relationship was “above board” as they notified their companies of the romance and Ms Paleothodoros was taken off the McDonald’s account. But it began to sour after Mr Easterbrook was made CEO in 2015 and they split up in 2018.
The last time she was in contact with him was in February, when she gave him support after his dismissal in November. She said, however, that they are no longer in contact as they both need “space to heal”.
The timings of the three recent alleged relationships coincide with Mr Easterbrook’s efforts to convince senators he was committed “to ensuring a harassment and bias-free workplace”.
Tammy Duckworth, whose state of Illinois is home to the McDonald’s Chicago headquarters, wrote to Mr Easterbrook in 2018 demanding he “examine the broader culture” after multiple sexual harassment claims by employees across the country.
Mr Easterbrook replied in May 2019, extolling the company’s progress on sexual harassment and said it had been working on the issue to send “a clear message that we are committed to creating and sustaining a culture of trust where employees feel safe, valued and respected”.
But Ms Duckworth and seven other senators, including the Democratic vice-presidential candidate Kamala Harris, wrote back and demanded McDonald’s go further. The letter said they remained “troubled that the procedures, policies and activities outlined fall short of providing a safe and respectful work environment”.
After Mr Easterbrook was sacked, groups such as Fight for $15, which had campaigned for action over sexual harassment, said “it’s clear McDonald’s culture is rotten from top to bottom”.
Mr Easterbrook, who divorced his wife Susie, an estate agent in Gerrards Cross, Buckinghamshire, had worked at McDonald’s for nearly two decades.
When he became CEO he moved the company’s headquarters from suburban Oak Brook, Illinois, to West Loop, a more central area of Chicago. The top floor of the nine-storey office had a corporate cash bar that hosted happy hours on Thursday for staff.
Mr Easterbrook, though CEO, was notorious for flirting with female employees, current and former staff said. “There were a couple of women who talked to me about his flirting. It was enough for them to feel uncomfortable,” a former executive said.
There is no suggestion Mr Easterbrook was involved in any harassment. [J4MB emphasis]
According to this week’s legal filing, he had “dozens” of sexually explicit or nude photographs and videos of women, including photographs of employees. These were “sent as attachments to messages from his company email account to his personal email account”, McDonald’s said.
He had deleted the images from his company phone, meaning they were not discovered during its original investigation, according to the complaint.
The New York Times reported that the unnamed woman whose claim last October led to Mr Easterbrook being fired was worried she would be punished for the month-long relationship.
Fearing for her future at the company, she told her superiors that she and her boss exchanged sexually explicit text messages, photographs and at least one Facetime call, but said it was not a physical relationship.
Mr Easterbrook was allowed to leave with his severance package to create “as little disruption as possible”, McDonald’s said in its court filing.
Last year it was reported that McDonald’s UK staff were suffering a “toxic culture” of sexual harassment in which at least 1,000 women had been abused.
Mr Easterbrook could not be reached for comment.
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