Unhappy Meals: Sex Discrimination in Toy Choice at Mcdonald's

32 Pages Posted: 9 Jan 2014

See all articles by Ian Ayres

Ian Ayres

Yale University - Yale Law School; Yale University - Yale School of Management

Antonia Ayres-Brown

Independent

Date Written: January 7, 2014

Abstract

This essay reports on a commonplace form of sex discrimination that we unsuccessfully challenged in a lawsuit before the Connecticut Human Rights Commission. In a small-scale pilot study that we conducted 5 years ago (which was the basis of our initial complaint) and in a follow-up study conducted in 2013, we found that McDonald’s franchises, instead of asking drive-through customers ordering a Happy Meal about their toy preference, instead asked the customer for the sex of the customer’s child ("Is it for a boy or a girl?") and then gave different types of toys for each sex. Moreover, our 2013 visits found that franchises treat unaccompanied children differently because of their sex. In 92.9% of the visits, the stores, without asking the child about her or his toy preference, just gave the toy that they had designated for that sex. Moreover, 42.8% of stores refused to offer opposite-sex toys even after the child re-approached the counter and affirmatively asked for an alternative. In the most egregious instance, a girl, after twice asking for a "boy’s toy," was denied the offering (even though the store a moment later had the "boy’s toy" in stock). These "fair counter" tests indicate that stores use discriminatory default, altering, and mandatory rules. They constitute strong prima facie evidence of disparate treatment on the basis of sex in the terms and conditions of contracting for a public accommodation. We also use our Happy Meal empiricism as a motivating example to explore the proper limits of civil rights law. While newspapers describing job listing as "male" or "female" have been found to be a per se civil rights violation, describing Happy Meal offerings as "boy’s toys" or "girl’s toys" may, as a positive matter, not offend courts’ current notion of equality.

Suggested Citation

Ayres, Ian and Ayres-Brown, Antonia, Unhappy Meals: Sex Discrimination in Toy Choice at Mcdonald's (January 7, 2014). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2375843 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2375843

Ian Ayres (Contact Author)

Yale University - Yale Law School ( email )

P.O. Box 208215
New Haven, CT 06520-8215
United States
203-432-7101 (Phone)
203-432-2592 (Fax)

Yale University - Yale School of Management

135 Prospect Street
P.O. Box 208200
New Haven, CT 06520-8200
United States

Antonia Ayres-Brown

Independent

No Address Available

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