McDonald's "creates and permits a toxic work culture from the very top,” according to a class-action suit filed against the company on November 12, 2019. Former restaurant employee Jenna Ries, along with other unnamed plaintiffs, is demanding at least $5 million in damages for harassment she endured over 18 months. She has also filed a sexual harassment complaint with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) against McDonald’s Corporation and the franchise owner, Michael Dickerson.
The suit alleges that a male co-worker repeatedly groped her crotch, breasts, and buttocks while at work at the Mason, Michigan, restaurant. He allegedly also called her sexually-demeaning names in front of other employees, threatened to fire her if she did not have sex with him, and even on one occasion placed his penis in her hand.
Further, the male co-worker sexually harassed and assaulted other female employees. He even made sexual comments to and about minors on the team. His behavior, and a lack of repercussions from management, encouraged other male employees to also sexually harass other employees and each other at the location, the suit alleges.
The harassment caused severe emotional distress for Ries over a year and a half at the store. She claims she repeatedly complained to the general manager of the restaurant, asking not to be scheduled with the offending employee, but her request was ignored. She also requested a transfer because the work environment was too toxic, but the manager denied one.
More importantly, the suit alleges that there were no obvious channels to escalate her concerns, despite franchiser McDonald’s being a multi-million-dollar corporation. Outside of the ineffectual general manager at the franchise, there was no human resources department to complain to and no training on how to properly deal with sexual harassment at the workplace.
The suit is the latest in a long string of sexual harassment complaints against the fast-food giant. A Lubbock, Texas franchise recently paid over $300,000 as a settlement with federal regulators over sexual harassment claims. (This suit, however, was only against the franchise owner and not the parent corporation.) The corporation recently fired its CEO, Steve Easterbrook, over a relationship he had with an employee, in violation of company policy. While not illegal, Easterbrook’s relationship is evidence, according to Ries’s complaint, that McDonald’s “creates and permits a toxic work culture from the very top.”
McDonald’s defended itself in a statement, saying it was adding new anti-harassment training to all corporate-owned restaurants. It also says franchisees are implementing the training. However, over 50 complaints and suits have been filed against McDonald’s over three years, according to labor rights group Fight for $15.
Hundreds of workers went on strike in Detroit the day after the lawsuit filing in an event organized by Organized by Fight for $15. Their demands were for unions for all, $15 an hour pay, and to end sexual harassment and exploitation, like type described in Ries’s case, according to a press release.
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