Since 2016, McDonald’s has faced more than 50 lawsuits regarding sexual harassment in the workplace and/or condoning retaliation against employees reporting such behavior. In May 2019, the number of lawsuits jumped by 50 percent, stated the ACLU & Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund and Fight for $15 in a joint announcement.
The director of Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund says that more than a million workers in the fast food industry, often young women of color, experience sexual harassment and abuse as part of the job. The organization was created to help low-wage workers sexually harassed in the workplace.
Many Young People Harassed
The 25 new cases include a single mother making $9.60 an hour at Florida McDonald’s who dealt with groping and lewd comments from a co-worker. Once she reported the behavior to her supervisor, her co-worker was transferred, but her weekly hours were cut from 25 to seven. She said the loss of hours made it nearly impossible to support her child.
Many of the new filings deal with incidents occurring when the McDonald’s employees were in their teens. One young woman from South Carolina said she was subjected to her manager’s verbal and physical advances.
When she refused him, he cut her hours, removed her from a management training program, and was rude to her on a daily basis. A 16-year-old in Arizona claimed a co-worker inappropriately touched her and made suggestive comments. She said she was fired when she reported the sexual harassment.
A Chicago plaintiff alleges she was fired after a manager exposed himself to her and she complained about his behavior. A Louisiana woman said when she complained to her manager about a groping incident, he replied that she was giving “sex appeal.”
Padma Lakshmi Weighs In
Top Chef’s Padma Lakshmi responded to reports of the 25 new lawsuits by saying McDonald’s should implement changes so that no other workers had to endure what these plaintiffs allege happened to them. She also joined employees and demonstrators protesting outside McDonald’s Chicago headquarters, where some people carried signs with “#MeToo McDonald’s” and similar statements.
McDonalds’ Claiming Franchises Liable
Approximately 850,000 people work for McDonald’s in one of its 14,000 fast-food restaurants in the U.S. Because roughly 90 percent of these facilities are franchised, the company has long contended it is not liable for employee behavior in franchises. However, the company upgraded its policies regarding sexual harassment and engaged in training franchise owners about the issue. It plans to start a hot-line for reporting harassment in the near future.
CEO Steve Easterbrook said McDonald’s was "committed to ensuring a harassment and bias-free workplace" and worked with the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Council in developing its new anti-discrimination and sexual harassment policies.
An ACLU senior staff attorney says that while McDonald’s refuses to take responsibility for sexual harassment experienced by staff, the new lawsuits are a way not only to seek relief for workplace harassment victims but to encourage shareholders to hold McDonald’s management to account.
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