Woman sues McDonald's over Happy Meals
December 15th, 2010
02:04 PM ET

Woman sues McDonald's over Happy Meals

A California woman is suing McDonald's claiming the fast-food giant uses toys to market directly to young children. Monet Parham, a Sacramento, California, mother of two small children filed the lawsuit Wednesday in San Francisco along with health, nutrition and food safety advocates Center for Science in the Public Interest . CSPI is seeking court approval to proceed as a class action.

Parham, a 41-year old state employee, says her kids repeatedly ask for Happy Meals, mainly for the toys. "We have to say no to our kids so many times and McDonald's makes that so much harder to do. I object to the fact that McDonald's is getting into my kids' heads without my permission and actually changing what my kids want to eat."

Michael Jacobson, CSPI's executive director accused McDonald's of "one of the most insidious marketing practices–dangling a toy in front of a small child." Jacobson called the practice "unfair, deceptive and illegal' in California and many other states. "The food industry has a responsibility not to intrude into families by using sleazy marketing techniques getting kids to pester their parents."

Jacobson compared the tactics to tobacco companies marketing to kids with things like Joe Camel. "In this instance, McDonald's is worse. They are going straight at little kids. The company is using unfair techniques to persuade the kids to persuade the parents to go to McDonald's. Tobacco companies don't go after 3 year-olds. Neither does Coca Cola or Pepsi."

In 2006, fast food companies spent over $520 million on advertising and toys to market kids meals. More than $350 million of that was for toys alone. Last month, The San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed an ordinance that requires happy meals and other fast food offerings with toys meet new nutritional standards or be removed from menus. It goes into effect next December.

McDonald's says it is proud of its Happy Meals and will vigorously defend the company's brand, its reputation and its food. "We stand on our 30-year track record of providing a fun experience for kids and families at McDonald's," said Bridget Coffing, a company spokesperson. "We listen to our customers, and parents consistently tell us they approve of our Happy Meals. We are confident that parents understand and appreciate that Happy Meals are a fun treat, with quality, right-sized food choices for their children that can fit into a balanced diet."

This is not the first time CSPI has challenged fast food companies in court. In 2006 the organization went after Kellogg for marketing cereals loaded with sugar to children. In that case CSPI and Kellogg reached a settlement. CSPI also sued Kentucky Fried Chicken for frying its chicken in partially hydrogenated oil, which is high in trans fat. When KFC phased out the oil, CSPI dropped the lawsuit.

soundoff (2,110 Responses)
  1. Steven

    I should be surprised by this, but in truth, I'm not. A parent refuses to take responsibility for raising her parents and then sues a company so that she can look like she's a good parent. Be an adult! You don't want your children to see McDonald's commercials, control their TV watching. You don't want them asking for McDonald's Happy Meals? Tell them to stop asking or there will be consequences. BE A PARENT and stop whining!!!

    December 16, 2010 at 08:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Robert Dun

    I think McDonalds should be allowed to sue this fame & money seekking beeotch !!!

    December 16, 2010 at 08:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. JanetMermaid

    Here's a thought lady(?).... BEHAVE LIKE A PARENT. Raise your own children and teach them proper eating habits. I'll bet you also aren't bothering to teach your kids manners, respect for others, taking responsibility, or showing motivation or self-suficiency.

    Please report to your nearest Too Stupid To Be A Parent facility where your uterus will removed. We apologize that we did not catch this mistake sooner and that you were mistakenly allowed to produce two progeny. We ensure that at least in your case we will do everything possible to ensure this does not happen again.

    December 16, 2010 at 08:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. vicky

    A real mother would have the ability to explain to their child why they cannot have a happy meal. (In this case her reason is obviously because happy meals are not especially good for you) She would then tell her children that if they were able to accomplish a task (do all your chores, eat all your veggies etc) then they would be able to have a special treat. Why not make a "happy meal" for your kids at home? Turkey burger, sweet potato fries, small toy/ game for your kids to enjoy? Then you would have accomplished two things. Your children would have gained more knowledge of healthy eating habits, and they would understand the value of working for something that they want!

    December 16, 2010 at 08:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Mike

    woooow if you seriously can't control your kid, dont sue a company and try to make a buck for it.... people these days will sue for anything...its absurd

    December 16, 2010 at 08:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. RightIsRight

    Sounds like some future liberals in the making – don't they call the republicans "the party of no"? This is the type of thing that is leading to the systematic destruction of America. We are teaching dependence on the government at a very early age. We can't even make proper food choices on our own anymore. Parents need to teach their kids what is right and wrong, how to make good choices, and if they don't there will soon be laws telling people how to use the potty. These children are destined to grow up suckling from the government teat, funded by those that take responsibility for their own actions and the actions of their children.

    December 16, 2010 at 08:02 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Steven

      I don't think that this is particularly a left or right issue. It's an issue of somebody not acting like a parent. I've taught for over 25 years and have learned that neglect knows no politics or financial standing.

      December 16, 2010 at 09:45 | Report abuse |
  7. Schnoodledad

    If this goes through next parents will sue toy manufacturers who advertise on TV during children's shows, because the parents have to say NO too many times when the kids ask for the toys. Next up, Captain Crunch and Boo Berry cereals. Take responsibility people, be a parent, and say NO when appropriate without trying to find someone else to blame. It's called "PARENTING." Of course if she is doing this just for the money then that is another case altogether.

    December 16, 2010 at 08:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. camper

    That's correct, rightisright....if the Republicans are the party of 'no', why are the liberals always the ones wanting to have the government regulate everything and everybody?

    December 16, 2010 at 08:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Robin Bray

    What? the toys were not marketed towards adults? I'm shocked. How come my tiny mind could not figure this out. And CSPI rags on the obvious again.

    December 16, 2010 at 08:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Albert

    First thing is that her lawyer is making money and was smart to take this case. Second, she knows that she does not have to eat at Mcdonalds, there are hundreds of other places to eat, and third is if she does go to Mcdonalds she can just buy them the toy for $1.79 and then use $3.00 in gas to get there. That would be better than paying a lawyer $10000, what an idiot.

    December 16, 2010 at 08:10 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Sadaski

      sad thing is she probably didnt pay for the lawyer... there are companies that will fund frivilous cases like this because they know there are idiots out there in the world just waiting to sue anyone for anything they can

      December 16, 2010 at 08:19 | Report abuse |
  11. DudeDad

    What next? The government needs to stop allowing companies to offer discounts to adults..."the company offered me a savings, got in my head, and made me buy their crappy product"....This woman needs to be the parent and stop pushing her parenting off onto the government. I have two small children....parenting is work....if she didn't want to work, she should have kept her legs closed....

    December 16, 2010 at 08:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. doiturself

    If people had to pass a test before being allowed to become parents this woman would surely have failed. What a lazy parent expecting others to set boundaries for your children.

    December 16, 2010 at 08:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Byte This

    Excuse me... Which is the child and which is the parent in this scenario? If she can't say no to freakin' Happy Meal, what's going to happen when the kids are old enough to drive? Rolls Royces for everyone? Come on, woman – be the Mother, not the playmate.

    December 16, 2010 at 08:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Don

    The story should be "Children taken from Incompetent Parent". Saying "no" to to child is a natural act. The parent has to teach by words and example. If this woman can't handle her kids, they need to be placed where they can get the love, guidance and care that they need and deserve. What a crock! We need parent testing... Maybe a certification of competency before being allowed to propagate...

    December 16, 2010 at 08:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Lisa

    Instead of filing a ridiculous lawsuit, why don't these whining parents grow a pair and actually PARENT the child? Tell them no and mean it, teach the child that pestering/repeated questioning after a decision has been made is not acceptable behavior. If anything, she should be sued for exhibiting defective parenting practices.

    December 16, 2010 at 08:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. melissa

    the beeotch needs to turn the tv off.... there problem solved. spend time with your kids instead of sticking them in front of the tv. is she going to sue the department stores too? they advertise toys on tv all the time???
    everybody is always trying to sue someone

    December 16, 2010 at 08:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Zach

    This is stupid you can always say no to your children but if they scream and yell just pull out the belt

    December 16, 2010 at 08:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Wifey

    So do the candy aisles in stores, and pretty much every other fast food chain out there....she gonna sue 'em all?? Of course this is in "sue happy" California.

    December 16, 2010 at 08:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. John Q Public

    Why Mcdonald's? Burger King, Arby's, Wendy's etc.etc. They all have toys in their kid's meals (or whatever their called at these establishments), Why go after a single corporation... Why not go after all of them!! This is a sarcastic comment, to show that greed is such a disgusting part of our society when people can't take responsibility for their own actions!

    December 16, 2010 at 08:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Sean

    This woman is quite possibly one of the dumbest human beings alive today. You know what?...I have to tell my kids "no" all the time when it comes to McDonalds...IT'S CALLED PARENTING YOU STUPID BROAD. If you didn't want to have to exercise authority with your children, you should have kept your legs together.

    December 16, 2010 at 08:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. paige

    is this a joke ?

    December 16, 2010 at 08:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. 300lb_Joe

    I love happy meals I often order 4 or 5 of them at a time. I give my kids the toys because we cannot afford toys.

    December 16, 2010 at 08:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. Syd

    Well said Star

    December 16, 2010 at 08:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. Linda

    I want to sue Ms. Parham. She is trying to take away my childrens freedom to order happy meals. Gee, is this stupid or what?

    December 16, 2010 at 08:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. Greg

    Great...after reading this article I'm now hungry for a McD's cheeseburger and fries. If I go and buy a meal to satisify my craving, does this mean I should setup a lawsuit against both McD's and CNN?

    December 16, 2010 at 08:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. datruf

    what has happened in this world?!? My mom and dad told me NO!! as a kid. Litigation instead of parents instilling discipline and control over their rugrats. Always somebody elses responsibility. Their kids will grow up to be the same blaming adults their parents are. no wonder the U.S. has become the world's punchline... how about taking the happy meals from the fat brats and giving it to someone who is homeless and hasn't eaten today? ah, there's an idea....

    December 16, 2010 at 08:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. holmes

    Seriously?? What is wrong with people?? What about all the foods in the grocery store that market to kids? Are we going to sue all of the food companies next for marketing junk food to kids? I agree with everyone here that parents need to suck it up and say NO. It's called setting boundaries.

    December 16, 2010 at 08:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. Appalled

    Give me break – next this woman will be expecting all toy manufacturers to stop advertising because it influences what stores she shops at because that is what her kids want. Buck up Betty – act like a parent! Tell them no!

    December 16, 2010 at 08:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. Matthew

    This is silly. My children (3 & 5) do not beg for happy meals because they've only gotten two or three in their whole life. They don't even know that it is something to ask for. This is as silly as someone turning in this lady to child protective services for constantly feeding her kids fast food.

    December 16, 2010 at 08:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. Vienna

    What a frivolous and pointless lawsuit. Happy Meals are marketed towards kids because (insert big gasp) they are intended for...KIDS. Should restaurants be sued for offering coloring books to families, when the children order something from the kids menu? What is the point in this?

    December 16, 2010 at 08:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. Jason Robert Gardner

    Im fat

    December 16, 2010 at 08:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. Canadian JIm

    Another stupid lawsuit. Discipline your kids yourself.

    On the other hand, charge parents who feed their kids at McDonalds with abuse or neglect. Maybe poarents will be more disciplined about what they allow.

    December 16, 2010 at 08:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. The Clap

    Sue the Toy companies. They are guilty of the same damn thing.

    December 16, 2010 at 08:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. snowdozer

    MS. Parham..Why stop there? Go for ChuckECheese, ToysRUS, or even Mattel! There's a lot of money there! They have commercials that make kids want their toys too. Do you know what I do when my 9 yo son asks....I tell him 'no' and explain why it isn"t necessary. Guess what? He understands! Stop using the courts to cover for your poor parenting!

    December 16, 2010 at 08:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. meeee

    why dont you just try to NOT take them to Mcdonald's .

    December 16, 2010 at 08:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. FD

    I guess toy commercials are next.And than Candy commercials. I got an idea lets have parents give birth than hand kids over to the government so they can raise them.Jeez people take responsibility yourself.

    December 16, 2010 at 08:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. Jim

    Granted McD's is marketing to children and it's been going on for many, many years, why did it take someone in our litigious society so long to finally sue? You're the parent and supposed to be in charge. Get over yourself lady; make your family meals at home. I would hope they might be healthier anyway!

    December 16, 2010 at 08:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  38. Connie

    DHS should investigate this family. The neglected children are evidently living with no parental supervision. I bet her children tell her NO all the time. What will be next, lady, M&Ms!? Money for the lawyers and CSPI... that's all this is. I think I will go buy a happy meal.

    December 16, 2010 at 08:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  39. BoyHowdie

    Here's an idea. How about telling your child NO? Ever think of that?

    December 16, 2010 at 08:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  40. twocents

    If she cannot say "No" then she should say yes, but tell them they will donate or give the toy to someone else and teach them a real lesson on how to be real humans rather than kids destined to be taken care of all their lives!

    December 16, 2010 at 08:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  41. Sassy

    You know if you teach your kids the word NO maybe you wouldn't have this problem. Its not McDonalds that needs to be punished. Maybe you should think about your parenting!!!

    December 16, 2010 at 08:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  42. tess

    How about CHOOSING another place to eat with your kids? Why should all responsible parents be regulated to appease your own lack of discipline and shore up your poor parenting skills? How about moving your family to a communist country, where the government has full control of what the citizens eat? This woman is a prime example of what's wrong with California and the USA, there are those who think they know what's best for everyone else and are willing to throw the Bill of Rights out the window to force us all to live their way. Those poor kids.

    December 16, 2010 at 08:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  43. Rob

    Personally, I think the way that McDonald's markets their rather terrible food to young children is somewhat out of line, though I'd have to disagree with comparisons to tobacco companies. While McDonald's produces an unhealthy product, so do lots of food companies. Tobacco companies are on another level, selling an obviously addictive drug with only negative health consequences. With food companies, you always have the choice to easily say no. That is what bothers be the most about this story. In understand the woman's lawsuit, in that she is acting to change the fast food marketing paradigm for the sake of everyone's children, but her inability to simply tell her kids that "we don't eat that stuff" is telling about some of the reasons behind the current rise in childhood obesity. Parents need to take responsibility for their children's diets and not simply get them what they want. The kids don't know any better, so it's up to the adults to keep their children safe and to be good role models for them. A better solution for the Happy Meal problem would simply be to act through consumer demand. McDonald's is a company and they make money by selling food. If people really didn't want the terrible Happy Meals they serve, McDonald's would change them or offer alternatives. It's not the toys that are the problem, it's the food. Consumers need to take the reigns in the fight for better product. Vote with you wallet and take some community action. One can't expect the courts to do everything for them, especially when it comes to stifling free-market economic liberties.

    Rational, effective nutrition for fat loss and long-term health: http://www.NutritionPerfected.com/np-blog.html

    December 16, 2010 at 08:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  44. JRock001

    Maybe she should go to the real source of the problem and sue herself. How dare she bring children into this world knowing full well that raising a child can be difficult at times and you often have to do the awful horrible thing of actually saying no to them.

    December 16, 2010 at 08:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  45. Duane

    I don't have time so here is a business idea for someone who wants to run with it. Create a dumb lawsuit filing book preferably with pictures of those who file stupid lawsuits.

    December 16, 2010 at 08:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  46. Dave

    This woman is the embodiment of everything that is wrong with America today. Seriously, she shouldn't even be allowed to be a parent.

    December 16, 2010 at 08:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  47. twocents

    I used ot love having something my kids were interested in for the rest of the car ride! ONE WHINER RUINING IT FOR EVERYONE ELSE!

    December 16, 2010 at 08:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  48. Gaby Lieb

    People are ridiculous, and "sue happy". Might as well sue Burger King, Wendy's, and any other franchise that offers a toy!!!!! NO one is twisting your child's arm to eat fast food! NO is NO!!!! Let them pout, scream, and or cry, because in the end your the frigging PARENT!

    December 16, 2010 at 08:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  49. Ken

    Maybe people with children should start being parents. My parents said "no" and I knew they meant it. We got things like happy meals as an occasional treat...not every night for dinner or just because we wanted a toy. We didn't eat fast foods except on very rare occasions – because my parents did their job, rather than relying on the school system and day care to raise us. Time to put parents on the spot for letting their kids make poor decisions. You conceived them – they should be your responsibility until they move out of your house, or reach age 21. (It was 18 in my day – you can serve in the military at 18, but you can't order an adult beverage ? Really? Wow....). I was more grown up at 18 than most people in their late 20s are now – but again, it goes back to good parenting. Do your jobs, people – or use a condom.

    December 16, 2010 at 08:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  50. Billy

    Unfortunately, the courts in the 9th Circuit are liberal enough to rule in her favor.

    December 16, 2010 at 08:36 | Report abuse | Reply
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