Huge Scandals That Plagued Five Guys

There's no denying that Five Guys is currently sitting high and mighty on the burger throne. The chain has spread across the United States and is reportedly prepping to open stores in China. Their customer service and, of course, their food have helped make them America's new favorite burger chain and have put brands like McDonald's on notice. 

This doesn't mean that there aren't a few cracks in the foundation of the Five Guys empire. Anytime a brand grows as big and as fast as Five Guys, there are going to be problems that pop up and a higher level of scrutiny. The burger brand has found itself saddled with horrific managers, labor law violations, and, perhaps most-damaging, criticism directed at the burgers and fries themselves. Five Guys has worked to correct some of these scandals and criticisms, but they seem to be shrugging off others... at least for now.    

A Five Guys franchise owner made a fuss over providing employees with health insurance

One would hope that a Five Guys franchise operator would want to do right by their employees, but that's not always the case. North Carolina Five Guys owner Mike Ruffer pitched a fit in 2013 when he discovered that, because he employed 147 employees at his eight burger locations, he'd have to provide health insurance, as reported by The New York Times.

"There's a part of me that would love to offer health care to my employees," Ruffer said, before pointing out that he was losing around $60,000 a year in profits under the Obamacare employer mandate. Now $60,000 isn't chump change, but considering that a Five Guys owner who operates just a single store makes six figures (keep in mind Ruffer owned eight), well, $60,000 isn't the hardest pill to swallow.

Naturally, Ruffer wasn't the only restaurant owner who felt this way and said he'd be forced to "pass on the costs to customers." Still, it didn't exactly make him look good.

The bright spot in this story was that other Five Guys franchise owners like JR Rosenau of Florida took the new mandate in stride, as reported by Naples Daily News. Whereas Ruffer halted his plans to expand because of the Obamacare mandate, Rosenau had plans to open more locations. "You just need to find a way to figure it out," Rosenau said.

Five Guys didn't pass this test

Let's not kid ourselves. The only healthy thing you'll find at Five Guys is the tomato slice and leaf of lettuce on your burger. Eating a meal at Five Guys can easily break the recommended daily calorie intake. We all know that those decadent burgers come at a cost, but it still stings when the curtain of truth is pulled back.

Speaking of those big beefy burgers, Five Guys got an "F" when it came to antibiotics in their beef, and no, that F didn't stand for "fantastic." A report produced by the Center for Food Safety, Consumer Reports, and other consumer/animal watchdog groups slapped the F grade on Five Guys and 21 other burger chains for failure to source any of their beef from antibiotic-free farms, as reported by CBS News.

Antibiotics are used to prevent disease in livestock, but they've also been criticized for leading to antibiotic-resistance in humans. "When antibiotics stop working, diseases become harder to treat, life-saving surgeries riskier to perform, and a scrape on the knee can even turn deadly," Jean Halloran, director of food policy initiatives with Consumer Reports, said.

The only burger chains that got an "A" grade were Shake Shack and BurgerFi.

Five Guys has been called out for their high-calorie burgers

For decades, burgers have been the enemy of dietitians who have slammed the American food for its high-fat content. Calling Five Guys unhealthy for serving burgers isn't exactly a groundbreaking argument, but what is turning some heads is the label of serving a "better burger."

Along with brands like Shake Shack, Five Guys is credited with creating a "better burger" that doesn't just beat McDonald's in taste, but also in quality. Unfortunately for Five Guys, not everybody is buying into the Five Guys burger popularity. "These new upscale burger restaurants are serving more meat between the buns with at least twice the calories," Jayne Hurley, a registered dietician at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, told HuffPost. "You would get a healthier meal at a traditional fast-food burger place like McDonald's or Burger King."

Hurley makes a good point. Both the Big Mac and Whopper have fewer calories and less fat than a cheeseburger from Five Guys. The Big Mac weighs in at 550 calories and 29 grams of fat and is slightly healthier than Burger King's Whopper's 630 calories and 35 grams of fat (via Business Insider). A regular two-patty cheeseburger from Five Guys has both beat with 840 calories and 55 grams of fat. No wonder outlets like The Daily Beast and The Daily Meal have called them some of the worst offenders in fast food!

That time a Five Guys manager was charged with assaulting employees...

Running a busy fast food restaurant is never easy. Customers can be impatient, employees call out sick, and there's always a problem that needs to be solved. But that doesn't excuse certain behaviors.

In October 2019, Five Guys manager Darnell Penn allegedly sexually assaulted an employee when he lured her to his car "under the guise of getting a new uniform," as reported by CBS Philly. He was also accused of forcing another employee to expose herself to him, allegedly threatening, "This stays between us or your job is done here."

After learning that he was facing charges, Penn ditched his Five Guys responsibilities and went on the lam. Penn was eventually arrested in Georgia and shipped back to Pennsylvania to face his charges, according to Fox29. While Five Guys obviously had nothing to do with the incident, other than hiring Penn, the ordeal certainly didn't help the image of that particular Pennsylvania location.

Another Five Guys manager was accused of harassing and degrading female employees

Unfortunately, Five Guys has had more than one terrible manager in their ranks. In 2015, a then-newly-opened Five Guys in West Virginia was hit with scandal when two of its female employees accused the manager of sexual harassment.

The two employees filed a lawsuit against both the Five Guys general manager and restaurant manager Andre Devon Fleming, accusing Fleming of creating a hostile work environment when he made unwanted sexual advances, as reported by Charleston Gazette-MailThe lawsuit detailed some pretty sleazy reported behavior on Fleming's part with the manager allegedly making unwanted sexual remarks. By the way, at least one of the employees was still in high school at the time. The two employees went on to say that Fleming grabbed their butts, allowed other coworkers to carry on with similar unwanted behavior, and had insulting nicknames for employees. 

As for the general manager, the lawsuit said that Curtis Runyon was made aware of such behavior and didn't take appropriate action.

More than one Five Guys manager has been arrested for theft

Five Guys has had more than a few sketchy managers who have been arrested for stealing. In February 2020, a former manager of a Five Guys in State College, Penn. was arrested for stealing $27,000 in cash deposits from his restaurant, as reported by Centre Daily Times. The manager said that it was all a conspiracy with another employee out to frame him.

But that alleged moment of Five Guys stealing was hardly the first. In 2019, a Memphis, Tenn. manager was busted for stealing $12,000 after she took the money from the safe and never deposited it at the bank. Once the store's owner confronted her about it, she simply didn't show back up for work. Obviously, that wasn't the end of the matter and police arrested her shortly thereafter.

Both of those examples are small fries compared to a reported theft from former Five Guys manager Darcy Lyons, who was found guilty and sentenced to up to five years in prison for stealing $122,000 from her store, as reported by The sad note, in this case, was the effect Lyons' theft had on other people. Her father took out a reverse mortgage on his home to try and help his daughter repay the debt. The store's owner also had to halt plans to open another location and dip into his children's college funds to make up for the loss.

Five Guys has been accused of violating labor laws

Five Guys has run into some trouble with California's labor laws on more than one occasion and has been on the other end of a lawsuit.

In 2012, several employees at a Five Guys in San Diego brought a lawsuit against the company, arguing that the restaurant had violated the state's overtime and meal break laws for hourly employees. A resolution to the case doesn't seem to be public information, but this wouldn't be the only time that Five Guys ran into trouble with labor issues. 

In 2017, former employee Jeremy Lusk brought a suit against Five Guys, arguing that the restaurant denied him both his 30-minute meal breaks and 10-minute meal breaks and had asked him to perform job duties while he was off the clock. Lusk argued that, if the restaurant was busy, his manager would deny him his breaks and that he would be asked to use his car without reimbursement to run errands for the store after clocking out. Lusk wasn't employed by Five Guys at the time he filed the lawsuit and said that the company dragged its heels in giving him his final paycheck after he quit.

Another particular point of interest is that the lawsuit accused Five Guys of accessing employee and potential employee credit reports without disclosure. As of late 2019, it looks like the case is still tied up.

Five Guys has been sued for wage discrimination

Considering that Five Guys has been one of the fastest-growing burger chains in the United States for years, it's not uncommon for the restaurants to be slammed with customers during meal times. The burger leaders that hold the chaos together are the restaurant's managers. Unfortunately, the brand has been accused of paying its female managers less than their male counterparts.

In 2017, Jody Finefrock and Julia Francis sued Five Guys because they felt that the company had paid them less than male managers, as reported by Bloomberg Law. Both women worked at company-owned Five Guys locations in Pennsylvania and said Five Guys was guilty of wage discrimination under the Equal Pay Act. For example, Finefrock said that, as an assistant general manager, she was making $5,000 less than the male assistant manager that she trained. When she did finally get promoted to general manager, she was still being paid $2,000 less than her male counterparts.

The women fought to make their case a class-action lawsuit that would work for all female managers, and Five Guys pushed back. The brand argued that the lawsuit was without merit because the Equal Pay Act only bars employers from discriminating against people working in the same establishment. In the end, the judge ruled in Francis and Finefrock's favor.

Three of the Five Guys' Washington, D.C. locations were accused of not paying taxes

In 2017, Five Guys found themselves with some explaining to do to Uncle Sam when three of its restaurants in Washington, D.C. were found to owe upwards of $500,000 in unpaid taxes, as reported by Eater. Whoops.

Officials reportedly made numerous attempts to collect on the taxes from the three eateries without any luck. The restaurant's owners were reportedly given numerous warnings that if they didn't comply there could be seizures. Well, you can probably guess what happened next. 

The D.C. tax office ordered that those locations immediately halt from serving burgers and fries. The action cut the city's six Five Guys restaurants down to just three. "We are working with the franchise owner of these three locations to resolve the issue as quickly as possible," a spokesperson for Five Guys said at the time. Thankfully, the restaurants were able to resolve their debt with the government, and a quick search on the Five Guys website reveals that all three locations are currently back in the burger business.

Not every review of Five Guys' fries has been stellar

The fries are one of the reasons that people flock to Five Guys, and, even though they garner praise like the "best french fries in fast food," not all the attention is good. French fries generally get labeled as junk food, but, of course, no brand wants to be associated with headlines like "worst fast food meals."

That's been exactly the case for Five Guys though, and everyone from Time to Food Network has called out the brand on their fatty fries. Never mind the fact that Five Guys only uses the finest of Idaho potatoes — there's no denying the high-calorie count that comes with them. A small order has 526 calories and a larger order has 1,314 calories, 57 grams of fat, and 1,327 milligrams of sodium, according to Food Network. Woof!

As for any accusations of the fries not being healthy or the brand piling on too many calories with an order, well, the burger chain is making no apologies. "I say load 'em up and make sure they get their money's worth," Chad Murrell, son of founder Jerry Murrell, told Food Republic. He added, "[Some] people complain that they get too many fries. I just tell them to make hash browns with the leftovers."

Five Guys was called out for alleged disability discrimination

In 2018, former Five Guys employee Jordan Botelho sued the burger chain for firing him for discrimination and harassment regarding his HIV diagnosis.

Botelho had started working at the restaurant in 2013, before he was diagnosed with HIV in 2014. He was cleared by his doctor to work, so long as he wore gloves, but, when the restaurant hired a new manager, Botelho said the manager began making fun of him and telling others about his HIV status before eventually firing him that same year, as reported by Unsurprisingly, Five Guys soon found themselves slapped with a lawsuit for discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act. "The law does not allow employers to treat employees in this manner, and we are confident a jury will hold Five Guys accountable for their unlawful treatment of Mr. Botelho," his attorney said.

While the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission did believe that Five Guys was in the wrong, they opted not to bring a lawsuit against the burger chain, for whatever reason.

Five Guys was grilled over the accessibility of their website

In 2017, a blind woman sued Five Guys regarding their website. Like many other chain restaurants, the Five Guys website allows users to place an order online.

For Lucia Marett, though, using the Five Guys website to satisfy her burger craving was next to impossible. Marett's class-action lawsuit claimed that the Five Guys website was full of one barrier after another for the blind and that she was unable to order her cheeseburger with onions, ketchup, and pickles because of those barriers. 

Five Guys argued that their website was in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act and tried to have the lawsuit dismissed. A Manhattan judge didn't buy their case though and shot down the dismissal request. The burger company has reportedly been working to overhaul its website to address and remove barriers that would prevent blind customers from using it — though the lawsuit is still moving forward.