McDonald's grimaces at Happy Meal lawsuit

Tue Apr 19, 2011 12:18pm EDT
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By Dan Levine

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - A lawsuit seeking to stop McDonald's Corp from offering toys with Happy Meals must be dismissed because parents can always choose not to buy the meals for their children, the hamburger giant said in a court filing late on Monday.

The lawsuit accuses McDonald's of unfairly using toys to lure children into its restaurants. The plaintiff, Monet Parham, a Sacramento, California mother of two, charges that the company's advertising violates California consumer protection laws.

The Happy Meal has been a huge hit for McDonald's -- making the company one of the world's largest toy distributors -- and spawning me-too offerings at most other fast-food chains.

One recent and very successful Happy Meal promotion was a tie-in with the popular DreamWorks Animation film "Shrek Forever After." The meals included toy watches fashioned after the movie's characters Shrek, Donkey, Gingy and Puss in Boots.

McDonald's use of Happy Meal toys also has come under fire from public health officials, parents and lawmakers who are frustrated with rising childhood obesity rates and weak anti-obesity efforts from restaurant operators, which are largely self-regulated.

Parham, who filed suit last December, is represented by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a nutrition advocacy group.

In the lawsuit, Parham admits she frequently tells her children "no" when they ask for Happy Meals, McDonald's said in Monday's court filing.

"She was not misled by any advertising, nor did she rely on any information from McDonald's," said the company.   Continued...

<p>Two McDonald's Happy Meal with toy watches fashioned after the characters Donkey and Puss in Boots from the movie "Shrek Forever After" are pictured in Los Angeles June 22, 2010. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni</p>