Memphis-area McDonald's franchisees Jim Byrd and Darrell Byrd. (Courtesy photo)

Two brothers, who own and operate McDonald’s restaurants in the Memphis area, are lead plaintiffs in a proposed class action lawsuit filed against McDonald’s by Black franchisees seeking to address systematic racism at the fast food giant.

The brothers, James Byrd and Darrell Byrd, currently operate two restaurants each. Both men declined to comment on the pending litigation.

The federal, civil rights suit, which seeks class-action status, was filed Oct. 29 in Chicago, where McDonald’s has its headquarters. The brothers are represented by The Ferraro Law Firm, which represents 52 Black former McDonald’s franchise owners in a similar suit filed in September.

There are currently 186 Black-owned-and-operated franchises in the U.S.

Recently, McDonald’s has been trying to win over Black franchisees with enticements such as rent relief in exchange for general release of liability from further suit, according to the plaintiff’s release.

The proposed class action suit seeks compensatory damages averaging between $4 million and $5 million per store, punitive damages, restitution and disgorgement of lost profits, and declaratory relief to assure that similar discriminatory conduct does not reoccur.

“These plaintiffs have risked everything by stepping forward on behalf of all current Black operators,” said James L. Ferraro, lead attorney and founder of The Ferraro Law Firm.

“They believe they can no longer remain silent and allow other Black McDonald’s franchisees to be misled and injured by the same pipeline of discrimination that has plagued Black franchisees for decades.”

The current operators would be free to opt in or opt out of the class action lawsuit as determined by the trial judge.

“There is a lot of fear amongst the current operators with regards to suing McDonald’s,” Ferraro said. “The class action provides some protection against those fears because all of the other class members are not specifically named.”

Ferraro said the lawsuit seeks long-term changes and equal support and opportunities for Black franchisees. Since the departure of Don Thompson, McDonald’s first Black CEO, in 2015, the company has gone backwards, some franchisees contend.

“We are under no illusion what McDonald’s will do,” Ferraro said. “They will open the check book to the remaining Black operators and demand they not join the class. They’ll put the screws to them and force some of them to go public saying ‘all is well.’’’

Ferraro said McDonald’s leads Black entrepreneurs to believe franchise ownership is a “golden opportunity” but the reality is the opposite. He said they are signing up for “financial suicide missions.”