Washington, Jan. 14: Having extracted $10 million from McDonald’s in the Hindutva-vegetarian lawsuit over beef-flavoured French fries served by the fast-food chain, the victors are now quarrelling over the spoils.
Harish Bharti, the Seattle attorney whose original lawsuit against McDonald’s made headlines across the world in May 2001, has filed a brief in a Chicago court alleging that the selection of beneficiaries to the settlement has been “rigged”.
Bharti says the list of those who will get the money includes many who are either sympathetic to McDonald’s or do not represent vegetarians at all.
Under a settlement reached between the plaintiffs in the class action suit and the fast-food giant last year, McDonald’s apologised for using beef and agreed that 60 per cent of the $10 million in damages would be paid to vegetarian groups, 20 per cent to Hindu and Sikh organisations, 10 per cent to children’s nutrition and hunger relief efforts and 10 per cent to those promoting the understanding of Kosher foods and dietary practices.
Tufts University in Massachusetts, Loma Linda University in California and the University of North Carolina would have together got $1.3 million under this settlement.
“I am deeply concerned that the funds not be allocated to a relatively small number of interest groups determined by... lawyers with personal preferences or prejudices unrelated to the actual needs and concerns” of those who filed the class action, Bharti said in his latest brief.
A judge in Chicago will this week hear the petition in which Bharti has asked the court to appoint an independent third party to prepare a fresh list of recipients.
The original case was filed after Bharti got hold of an e-mail in which McDonald’s directed its suppliers to lace its French fries with tiny amounts of beef flavouring.
Joining Bharti in his latest arguments against the list of recipients is Jeffrey Nelson, who runs VegSource.com, a web site for vegetarians. Nelson has told the court in a separate brief that some recipients in the list are “in fact anti-vegetarian” and had opposed the original lawsuit against McDonald’s.
Bharti and his partners in the class action case are not yet squirming over the new turn of events. But McDonald’s executives are certainly smiling over the developments.
The fast-food company has responded in its brief to the court that some complaints by Bharti and others are “substantive but many... fall into the category of petty gripes or sour grapes over not receiving funds.... When distributing a large sum of money, it is impossible to please every potential grant recipient or interested party”.
As for Nelson’s brief, it “reflects intramural squabbling within the vegetarian community about tactics for achieving vegetarian aims”, according to lawyers for McDonald’s.