(Reuters) - McDonald’s Corp (MCD.N) said on Monday it had agreed to settle a U.S. labor board case on whether the company is accountable for its franchisees’ alleged labor law violations.
The settlement, which must be approved by a National Labor Relations Board judge, would allow McDonald’s to avoid a ruling that it is a “joint employer” of workers at McDonald’s franchises and can be held liable when franchisees violate federal labor law.
McDonald’s, which did not admit to any wrongdoing in the settlement, said in a statement that it was pleased to resolve the claims.
“While the settlement is not yet final, we believe this is a major first step in ending this wasteful multi-year litigation,” the company said.
The exact terms of the settlement were not immediately clear.
Business groups had said that a ruling against McDonald’s could upend the franchising model by making franchisors more vulnerable to lawsuits and requiring them to bargain with unions representing franchise workers.
Illinois-based McDonald’s and the office of NLRB General Counsel Peter Robb presented the settlement to an administrative judge at a hearing in New York.
Union-backed worker advocacy group Fight for $15 filed dozens of legal claims on behalf of McDonald’s workers beginning in 2012. The group said workers across the United States were fired for taking part in protests calling for higher wages.
The judge had agreed in January to pause the trial against McDonald’s that began in 2015 so that Robb, an appointee of President Donald Trump, could pursue settlement talks with the company.
Fight for $15 lawyer Micah Wissinger said the group would object to the proposed settlement.
“In a real settlement, McDonald’s would take responsibility for illegally firing and harassing workers fighting to get off food stamps and out of poverty,” he said.
The case was seen as an important test of how a 2015 NLRB decision that had rankled business groups by making it easier to prove that a company is a joint employer would apply to franchisees.
In December, a new Republican majority on the board overturned the 2015 decision and said only companies with direct control over workers may be considered joint employers.
Last month, the board said its December ruling was invalid because NLRB member William Emanuel, a Trump appointee, had a conflict of interest. Emanuel’s former law firm represented a staffing agency involved in the 2015 NLRB case.
Reporting by Daniel Wiessner in Albany, N.Y.; Editing by Alexia Garamfalvi, Peter Cooney and Grant McCool