McDonald’s Happy Meal Toys Assailed in Lawsuit

McDonald’s Corp., the world’s biggest restaurant chain, baits, exploits and ultimately harms children by offering toys with its Happy Meals, a Washington-based consumer advocacy group claimed in a lawsuit.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest, in a complaint that its litigation director Stephen Gardner said was filed today at a state courthouse in San Francisco, accuses the company of deceptive marketing and business practices. The filing could not immediately be confirmed.

“I don’t think it’s right to entice children into wanting Happy Meals with the promise of a great toy,” plaintiff Monet Parham said today in a telephone interview. The case was filed by her on behalf of her 6-year-old daughter, Maya.

Boxed Happy Meals sold by the Oak Brook, Illinois-based restaurant chain typically consist of hamburgers, cheeseburgers or fried chicken, plus French fries or apple slices, a beverage and a toy.

“By advertising that Happy Meals include toys, McDonald’s has helped create and continues to exacerbate a super-sized health crisis in California,” the nonprofit group said in its complaint.

Parham, 41, lives in California’s capital, Sacramento, and said she is a state employee.

“We are proud of our Happy Meals and intend to vigorously defend our brand, our reputation and our food,” the company said in an e-mailed statement responding to the lawsuit.

Parental Approval

“Parents consistently tell us they approve of our Happy Meals,” McDonald’s said, adding that the company is “confident” parents recognize the meals as “a fun treat, with quality, right-sized food choices for their children that can fit into a balanced diet.”

The center seeks class-action, or group, status on behalf of all of the state’s children under 8 years of age who have seen marketing for the company’s packaged children’s meals since December 2006.

It also seeks an order barring the company from continuing to promote meals featuring toys on television, billboards and in its restaurants. There is no demand for money damages.

“The lawsuit is about the change, not the money,” Gardner said in a phone interview.

In June, the center sent the company a letter demanding it stop including the toys as premiums in meals.

“McDonald’s is engaged in a highly sophisticated scheme to use the bait of toys to exploit children’s developmental immaturity and subvert parental authority,” the organization alleged in its complaint.

The case is Parham v. McDonald’s Corp., CGC-10506178, California Superior Court, San Francisco County (San Francisco).

To contact the reporter on this story: Andrew M. Harris in Chicago at aharris16@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: David E. Rovella at drovella@bloomberg.net.

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