At a hearing Friday morning, U.S. District Judge Colleen McMahon in Manhattan accused the company of "playing games" in order to avoid complying with a subpoena from the National Labor Relations Board seeking documents from workers who deal directly with franchisees, which the company says would be irrelevant and costly.
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Judge says McDonald's must give employee emails to U.S. labor board
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - APRIL 22: Signs are posted on the exterior of a McDonald's restaurant on April 22, 2015 in San Francisco, California. McDonald's reported a decline in first quarter revenues with a profit of $811.5 million, or 84 cents a share compared to $1.2 billion, or $1.21 a share, one year ago. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
A McDonald's sign is displayed at a McDonald's restaurant in East Palo Alto, Calif., Friday, April 20, 2012. McDonald's mix of old menu standbys and new items like Chicken McBites lured in more diners, who helped boost its first-quarter profit. The world's biggest hamburger chain said Friday that its net income rose 5 percent in the first quarter, in line with Wall Street expectations. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma)
A McDonald's restaurant sign advertises to Chicago Cubs fans across the street from Wrigley Field in Chicago, Monday, April 20, 2009. McDonald's Corp. said Wednesday that its first-quarter profit climbed nearly 4 percent as more customers worldwide came to the Golden Arches for a cheap meal. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
Businesses all over the Coal River valley, like this one on a McDonald's in Beckley, W.Va. on Sunday, April 11, 2010, still have signs carrying remembrances of the 29 miners died in the explosion at Massey Energy Co.'s Upper Big Branch mine in nearby Montcoal, W. Va. on Monday. (AP Photo/Amy Sancetta)
FILE - In this Thursday, July 31, 2014 file photo, a customer walks past a statue of Ronald McDonald on display outside a McDonald's restaurant in Beijing. McDonald's Corp. on Monday, Nov. 10, 2014 said that a key global sales figure slipped 0.5 percent in October, with weakness in the U.S. and ongoing difficulties from a food-safety scandal in China weighing down its business. (AP Photo/Andy Wong, File)
Pedestrians walk past a McDonald's fast-food restaurant in Tokyo on January 9, 2015. A Japanese woman discovered fragments of 'dental material' in a McDonald's burger in 2014, the food chain said on January 9, the latest in a series of food contamination woes for the fast-food giant. AFP PHOTO / Yoshikazu TSUNO (Photo credit should read YOSHIKAZU TSUNO/AFP/Getty Images)
NOVATO, CA - DECEMBER 08: In this photo illustration, a McDonald's cheeseburger and fries are displayed on a table at a McDonald's restaurant on December 8, 2014 in Novato, California. McDonald's reported a worse than expected decline in November global same-restaurant sales. (Photo Illustration by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
A McDonald's restaurant in New York's Times Square features a movie theatre-style marquis, Thursday, Sept. 5, 2014. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
SEATTLE, WA - SEPTEMBER 04: McDonald's shows fans that tailgating is an anytime, anywhere experience at the NFL season opener kickoff party on September 4, 2014 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Suzi Pratt/Getty Images for McDonald's)
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 09: A McDonald's is seen on June 9, 2014 in New York City. McDonald's domestic sales rose slightly in May, but remain weak overall. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
STAMFORD, CT - APRIL 08: Activists protest for higher wages outside a McDonald's restaurant on April 8, 2014 in Stamford, Connecticut. Demonstrations were organized across the state by Connecticut Working Families to bring attention to minumum wages paid by fast food chains and Wal-Mart stores. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
A customer walks away with her takeout meal at a McDonald's restaurant in south Los Angeles where fast-food workers and their supporters gathered to protest wage theft on April 3, 2014 in California. Fast-food workers were joined by elected officials, community allies and faith leaders to protest systemic and illegal labor abuses in the fast food industry, coming just days after a first-ever national poll of fast-food workers found that 89 percent of employees surveyed at companies like McDonalds, Burger King and Wendys reported having wages stolen from them. AFP PHOTO/Frederic J. BROWN (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)
A picture taken on January 22, 2014 in Paris, shows the logo of a US fast food restaurant Mac Donald's. Vice-president for finance of McDonald's France Alexis Bourdon reiterated in a statement to the press on January 22, 2014 that the American fast-food giant, suspected of trying to avoid paying taxes on 2.2 billion euros ($3 billion) of income from its 314 French eateries, 'pays all of its taxes' on the 'totality of its revenue', denying a report of French magazine L'Express. AFP PHOTO / KENZO TRIBOUILLARD (Photo credit should read KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP/Getty Images)
FILE - In this April 2, 2014 file photo, a man talks on a mobile phone next to a downtown McDonald's in Hong Kong. McDonald's global sales at established restaurants grew 0.9 percent for the worldâs largest hamburger chain, the company said Monday, June 9, 2014. A 2.5 percent increase in sales in its Asia, Middle East and Africa region was driven by strength in China and other Asian markets. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu, File)
FILE - In this Friday, Oct. 4, 2013, file photo, a McDonald's restaurant sign is seen at a McDonald's restaurant in Chicago. McDonald's Corp. has shut down a website, Thursday, Dec. 26, 2013, intended to provide employees with work and life guidance after it generated negative publicity for the fast-food company. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh, File)
In this Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2014, photo, a McDonald's Big Mac sandwich is photographed at a McDonald's restaurant in Robinson Township, Pa. McDonald's saw a key sales figure drop in the U.S. again in February 2014, as the world's biggest hamburger chain struggles to beat back competition and adapt to changing eating habits. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
In this July 11, 2013 photo, a McDonald's marquis is illuminated in New York's Times Square. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
In this Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2014, photo, cars drive past the McDonald's Golden Arches logo at a McDonald's restaurant in Robinson Township, Pa. McDonald's reports quarterly earnings on Thursday, Jan. 23, 2014. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
In this May 6, 2012, photo, people walk around a McDonald's restaurant in New York's Time Square. McDonald's Corp. said Tuesday, May 8, that a key revenue figure rose in April as strength in the U.S. and U.K. helped offset weakness in Japan. But results missed analyst expectations and McDonald's shares fell 2 percent in premarket trading. The world's largest hamburger chain says global sales rose 3.3 percent at stores open at least 13 months. (AP Photo/CX Matiash)
In this Tuesday July 31, 2012 photo, Olympic athletes queue up at the McDonalds inside the dining hall at the Olympic Village in London. The athletes' dining room in the Olympic village is a food court like no other, offering the world's elite athletes healthy, hearty food and fuel, 24 hours a day _ and doing it the Slow Food way. And yet, off in the back corner of the dining room, next to the coffee bar that's disproportionately populated by Italians queuing up for their morning espresso, lurks McDonald's and its Sausage & Egg McMuffins. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)
In this photo taken Friday, Sept. 7, 2012, the new McDonald's television channel is seen at a McDonald's restaurant in Norwalk, Calif. McDonaldâs is testing its own TV channel in 700 California restaurants in a pilot project that could expand to all the companyâs restaurants. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)
FILE- In this Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2012, file photo, Carlos Gonzalez and Elsa Guzman eat breakfast at a McDonald's restaurant, in New York. McDonald's understands its reputation for serving cheap, greasy fare is a growing liability and is trying to change in a variety of ways. (AP Photo/Mark Lenniha, File)
In this photo taken on Friday, Sept. 7, 2012, McDonald's patrons watch the new McDonald's television channel at a McDonald's restaurant in Norwalk, Calif. McDonaldâs is testing its own TV channel in 700 California restaurants in a pilot project that could expand to all the companyâs restaurants. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)
FILE- This May 2, 2012, file photo shows a sign advertising job openings outside a McDonalds restaurant in Chesterland, Ohio. The Labor Department said Tuesday, May 8, that U.S. companies in March posted the highest number of job openings in nearly four years, a sign that hiring could strengthen in the coming months after slowing this spring. (AP Photo/Amy Sancetta, File)
In this photo taken Monday, April 30, 2012, three women walk past an advert for McDonald's fast food restaurant products in London. British doctors have slammed the sponsorship of the London Olympics by companies like McDonalds, saying it sends the wrong message amid the country's ballooning obesity crisis. Big Macs, fries and milkshakes will be part of McDonald's exclusive "meal brand" of the Olympics and the fast-food giant will soon be opening its largest franchise in the world, a two-storey cathedral-like restaurant that seats 1,500 customers, at London's Olympic Park. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
FILE - In this Friday, April 20, 2012, file photo, a McDonald's sign is shown at a McDonald's restaurant in East Palo Alto, Calif. McDonald's Corp., on Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2013, announced that a revamped version of its Dollar Menu that includes items priced at $5 could be launched nationally this year. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma, File)
In this Jan. 20, 2012 photo, the McDonald's logo is displayed on a drink as customers purchase lunch at McDonald's, in Springfield, Ill. McDonaldâs Corp. saw net income jump by 11 percent in the fourth quarter, as the fast-food giant continued to attract budget-conscious customers with low prices. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)
FILE - This Oct. 17, 2011 file photo, cars move through the drive-thru window at a McDonald's in Springfield, Ill. McDonald's Corp. on Tuesday, July 29, 2014 said it has been notified by the National Labor Relations Board that it can be named a âjoint employerâ for workers in its franchisee-owned restaurants. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman, File)
In this Jan. 20, 2012 photo, the McDonald's logo and a Happy Meal box with french fries and a drink are posed at McDonald's, in Springfield, Ill. McDonaldâs Corp. saw net income jump by 11 percent in the fourth quarter, as the fast-food giant continued to attract budget-conscious customers with low prices. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)
This June 28, 2011 photo shows a sign pointing to the McDonald's restaurant near the historic Pantheon in Rome, Italy. McDonald's Corp.'s revenue at restaurants open at least 13 months climbed 3.5 percent in August, led by strength in the U.S. and Europe. But the performance missed Wall Street's expectations and its stock fell in premarket trading. (AP Photo/Amy Sancetta)
In this July 18, 2011 photo, a Mocha Frappe is shown at a McDonald's restaurant in Boston. McDonald's Corp. said Friday, July, 22, its net income rose 15 percent in the second quarter to $1.4 billion on rising sales around the world. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
Rosaland Hemphill, 48, of Atlanta, fills out a job application at an Atlanta McDonald's restaurant Tuesday, April 19, 2011. McDonald's hopes to hire 50,000 new workers nationwide on April 19, 2011. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
This Oct. 28, 2010 photo shows a McDonalds restaurant in Champaign, Ill. advertising Egg McMuffins. McDonalds became a huge egg buyer when it added the sandwich to its menu in the 1970s and now has plans to add oatmeal. Farmers can see big sales when a restaurant chain adds the crops and food they grow it its menu. (AP Photo/David Mercer).
In this Sept. 9, 2010 photo, a McDonald's sign is shown in Portland, Ore. McDonald's frappes, smoothies and dollar menu drew in more customers in the third quarter, pushing the world's largest burger chain's net income up 10 percent Thursday, Oct. 21, 2010. AP Photo/Don Ryan)
FILE - In this July 21, 2010 file photo, people make their way past the McDonald's restaurant at Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco. McDonald's Corp. posted its biggest monthly increase of a key U.S. sales figure in two years on Monday, Aug. 9, 2010, saying its new fruit smoothies and frappes were a hit with customers during a hot and steamy July. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg, file)
The McDonald's logo is seen on a interstate exit ramp sign near Springfield, Ill., Tuesday, July 19, 2010. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)
A patron leaves a McDonald's restaurant in Tonawanda, N.Y., Wednesday, July 21, 2010. (AP Photo/David Duprey)
FILE - In this Jan. 22, 2010 file photo, a customer grabs lunch at a McDonalds drive-through in Chicago. McDonald's said Tuesday, March 8, 2011, global growth helped revenue in locations open at least 13 months rise 3.9 percent in February.(AP Photo/M. Spencer Green, File)
FILE - In this Jan. 20, 2010 file photo, a McDonald's restaurant is shown in Doral, Fla. McDonald's Corp. Sales of McDonald's fruit and maple oatmeal and drinks like frozen strawberry lemonade pushed the fast-food chain's revenue at restaurants open at least 13 months up 3.1 percent in May. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee, file)
In this Nov. 4, 2009 photo, customers visit a new McDonald's featuring free wifi, a euro-themed design and art deco in New York. The restaurant is a first-of-its-kind in the nation for McDonald's.(AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)
In this Nov. 4, 2009 photo, customers visit a new McDonald's featuring free wifi, a euro-themed design and art deco in New York. The restaurant is a first-of-its-kind in the nation for McDonald's. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)
In this photo made on Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2009, the trademark golden arches logos are seen at a McDonald's restaurant in Pittsburgh. McDonald's Corp. said Thursday, Oct. 22, 2009, new, more expensive burgers helped its third-quarter profit climb almost 6 percent. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
A cheeseburger and fries meal from a McDonald's restaurant is seen in San Jose, Calif., Wednesday, July 22, 2009. McDonald's said Thursday, its second-quarter profit dipped 8 percent because of the stronger dollar and a gain that boosted results a year ago.(AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
A United States flag flies in front of a McDonald's restaurant sign in San Jose, Calif., Wednesday, July 22, 2009.(AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
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"You're not even close to proving that the burden on McDonald's would outweigh the relevance" of the documents, McMahon told the company's lawyers.
The NLRB says McDonald's is a "joint employer" of franchise workers because of the control it exerts over them through guidelines imposed on franchisees.
The case, which is scheduled to go to trial before an administrative judge in January, is expected to have a major impact on U.S. franchisors, potentially forcing them to bargain with unions and pay damages to workers for labor law violations by franchisees.
McMahon on Friday also expressed impatience with the board, telling its lawyers they shouldn't have waited until the eve of trial to seek enforcement of the broad subpoena, which includes nearly 200 separate requests.
The judge rejected the board's demand for records from several McDonald's executives and information on the company's response to a union-backed nationwide protest movement calling for a $15 minimum wage.
NLRB attorney Rachel See said an effort by the company to stifle the campaign could be proof of joint employment, but McMahon called that "a stretch."
One of the company's lawyers, Willis Goldsmith, said McDonald's could not produce all of the remaining documents in 30 days, since the NLRB also wants employees' personal emails, text messages and phone records.
McMahon told the board it only needed work emails.
McDonald's in a court filing this week said it had already spent more than $1 million producing over 160,000 pages of documents in response to the subpoena.
The January trial is the next chapter in a protracted battle that is likely to end up before the five-member NLRB and then federal appeals courts.
The board in an August decision in Browning-Ferris Industries Inc overturned a 30-year-old standard defining joint employment as "direct and immediate control" over contract employees, saying the potential to control factors such as wages and discipline could be enough.
The case is NLRB v. McDonald's USA LLC, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, No. 1:15-mc-0322.
(Reporting by Daniel Wiessner; Editing by Alexia Garamfalvi and Alan Crosby)