DETROIT – A judge on Wednesday finalized a $700,000 settlement between McDonald's Corp. and members of Michigan's Muslim community over claims a suburban Detroit restaurant falsely advertised its food as prepared according to Islamic law.
Ahmed Ahmed, the Dearborn Heights man who represents plaintiffs in the class-action suit, claims he bought a chicken sandwich in September 2011 at the restaurant but found it wasn't halal. Islam forbids consumption of pork, and God's name must be invoked before an animal providing meat for consumption is slaughtered.
The McDonald's restaurant chain and one of its franchise owners agreed in January to the tentative settlement that would be shared by Ahmed, as well as a Muslim-run Detroit health clinic, the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn and lawyers.
The two sides met Wednesday for final approval before Wayne County Circuit Judge Kathleen Macdonald, who has overseen the case and refereed objections by outside groups since a preliminary deal was announced in January. The settlement was originally set to be finalized March 1, but Macdonald extended the public comment period after pressure from Dearborn lawyer Majed Moughni, who criticized the class-action settlement on Facebook and was temporarily barred from communicating publicly about the case.
Ahmed's portion of the settlement is considered an "incentive award" and represents his work on the case, his attorneys say.
"As a firm, we've borne the burden of litigating this case for over 19 months, and have paid a steep price in time and money to do so," Kassem Dakhlallah, an attorney whose firm represents Ahmed and the class, told The Associated Press in an email. "We are happy that we are able to finalize this case and get the settlement funds paid to the Huda Clinic to be used for medical care for the community, and to the Arab American National Museum to be used to allow our young ones to continue their educations after high school."
Macdonald said she was "proud to preside over" the long case and resolution reached by both sides.
The lawsuit technically covered anyone who bought the halal-advertised products between September 2005 and January from the restaurant and another McDonald's in the city with a different owner. The other location wasn't a defendant or a focus of the investigation.
Dakhlallah has said he was approached by Ahmed, and they conducted an investigation. A letter sent to McDonald's and the restaurant franchisee, Finley's Management, by Dakhlallah's firm said Ahmed had "confirmed from a source familiar with the inventory" that the restaurant had sold non-halal food "on many occasions."
In the settlement notice, Finley's Management said it "has a carefully designed system for preparing and serving halal such that halal chicken products are labeled, stored, refrigerated, and cooked in halal-only areas." The company added it trains its employees on preparing halal food and "requires strict adherence to the process."
McDonald's attorney Thomas McNeill said the investigations and negotiations proved that if a problem arose, "it was isolated and rare."
Dakhlallah said giving money to the charities is the best outcome, since most people wouldn't have kept their receipts, making "identifying class members who have valid claims nearly impossible."
Moughni argues that Dakhlallah and his colleagues could have made greater attempts to find those who were harmed and, failing that, identified more relevant organizations, such as Dearborn's public schools. He said the clinic is several miles away from the restaurant and the museum has nothing to do with halal food.
Macdonald disagreed, calling the charities "appropriate recipients," but Moughni said he's considering an appeal.
"We think it's wrong," he said. "It's unfair for the class members."
There are only two McDonald's in the United States that sell halal products and both are in Dearborn, which has one of the nation's largest Arab and Muslim communities. Overall, the Detroit area is home to about 150,000 Muslims of many ethnicities.