A Portland couple are suing McDonald's for negligence, saying an employee at the fast food franchise was waiting shirtless for them in the parking lot and assaulted them when they went outside.
Cory Whitfield and his fiance, Shaundra Graves, filed the lawsuit in Multnomah County Circuit Court this morning.
What led to the lawsuit? "Burnt hash browns, apparently," says 42-year old Whitfield.
Whitfield and Graves were visiting the Portland MacDonald's that Graves manages on Aug. 24 with their newborn baby in tow to visit her coworkers while on maternity leave.
When she saw that a batch of hash browns was burning in the oil, Graves made a comment about how hash browns should never burn—there's a timer to mark when they're done—and lifted the batch from the hot oil.
"She said something along the lines of, 'How is this food being burnt? This is stupid,'" says Whitfield of his fiance's reaction to the hash browns.
That's when 33-year old Christopher Lowman, a fairly new employee at the location near Mall 205, allegedly started yelling at Graves.
"He just came unglued. He came over and started screaming and yelling and cussing," says Whitfield. So Whitfield intervened and said he told the man, "'You can't be talking to women like that.'"
So Lowman allegedly invited him to go outside and fight him in the parking lot. Whitfield declined.
"Of course I'm not going to go fight some guy in a parking lot. I'm not an idiot. There's other ways to settle things, this isn't the wild west anymore," Whitfield says.
Lowman allegedly went outside, took his shirt off, and waited by Whitfield's car. Whitfield asked the manager on duty at McDonald's to address the problem. Nothing was done, the lawsuit says.
"I've never seen one where management was asked to intervene and they flat out refused," says attorney Michael Fuller, who is representing Whitfield and Graves.
Whitfield's 20-year old daughter and her boyfriend, 17-year old Landon Walker, were also with the family at the fast food joint, and Walker went outside to survey the scene, Whitfield joining him a few minutes later. That's when Lowman charged them.
During the brawl, Whitfield says, Lowman started screaming that he was going to get his gun from inside and shoot all of them—when he ran to the door, Walker tackled him and held him in a chokehold until it seemed Lowman had given up. He released him. Several seconds later, Lowman had grabbed a softball-sized rock and was running to attack Whitfield's daughter. Walker stopped the attack.
Several minutes later, the cops arrived and Lowman was arrested. Multnomah County court records show prosecutors did not pursue criminal charges against Lowman.
Whitfield and Graves are now suing McDonald's for negligence and Lowman for assault and battery. They are asking for $400,000 in emotional and physical damages.
The lawsuit points to Lowman's violent history as a strong warning sign that McDonald's should have never hired him. "[Lowman has] a long history of violence including disorderly conduct, menacing, criminal trespass, harassment, assault, strangulation, robbery, and unlawful use of a weapon," the lawsuit reads.
A McDonald's corporate spokesperson could not immediately be reached for comment.
Whitfield thinks corporations as powerful as McDonald's shouldn't be hiring felons to work in a family establishment.
"If you're a violent person like that and have a history of attacking people, why is he allowed to work in a place like this?" says Whitfield. "Half the people that go there are families. With a guy like that, it could be anyone at any time."
Fuller says he supports businesses hiring felons, but says "it's just unfortunate that the store didn't properly supervise and train him." Fuller adds, "I do credit this guy for going out and doing a hard job for low pay."
Fuller says he is working with Landon Walker on filing suit in the coming months once the extent of his injuries is determined. (Fuller is the lawyer who earlier this year succesfully sued Burger King on behalf of a man who said the company reneged on an offer of free Whoppers for life after he was locked in a restaurant restroom.)
Whitfield says Graves is strongly considering finding another place to work once she returns from maternity leave.
"She's a little embarrassed and a little scared to go back to work," says Whitfield. "As he was being arrested he was saying he was coming for us. So she's a little nervous."