McDonald’s not happy about Happy Meal class action

Posted on: May 6th, 2011 by Steve Larson

A class action lawsuit has been filed in California state court against McDonald’s alleging that it is 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 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.  McDonald’s had the suit moved to federal court, but the plaintiff plans to fight to get the case back before a California state judge.

McDonald’s filed a motion to dismiss saying that the parents are at fault, because they can always choose not to buy the meals for their children.  McDonald’s also said that the plaintiff was not misled by any advertising, nor did she rely on any information from McDonald’s.  Stephen Gardner, litigation attorney for the public interest group, said McDonald’s has chosen to blame the victim — saying that it’s all Monet Parham’s fault if she doesn’t force her daughter to ignore the onslaught of McDonald’s marketing messages.”

The U.S. food industry has successfully fended off obesity-related lawsuits for years, including helping push through state laws that ban obesity-related lawsuits.  The proposed class action lawsuit is in U.S. District Court, Northern District of California, entitled Parham v. McDonald’s Corporation et al, Civ. No. 11-511.