McD’s workers file sexual harassment suits against employer

Stephon Johnson | 5/23/2019, midnight
McDonald’s workers have filed 25 new sexual harassment lawsuits against the company.
McDonald's

McDonald’s workers have filed 25 new sexual harassment lawsuits against the company.

On Tuesday, May 21, ahead of a McDonald’s shareholder meeting, McDonald’s workers who are part of the the Fight for $15 campaign announced the filing of their lawsuits with the support of the American Civil Liberties Union and the TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund. It’s the end result of a multi-year effort by cooks and cashiers to press the company to address sexual harassment issues.

“For three years, we’ve been speaking out, filing charges, and even going on strike to get McDonald’s to confront its sexual harassment problem,” said Tanya Harrell, a McDonald’s worker from Gretna, La. Harrell’s co-worker attempted to rape her in a bathroom stall. “But these new charges show that nothing has changed. We cannot wait any longer for action. McDonald’s, it’s time to sit down with the workers who help make your $6 billion in profits possible so, together, we can stamp out harassment once and for all.”

On top of the lawsuits, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission charged McDonald’s with an alleged trail of illegal conduct in both corporate and franchise restaurants across 20 cities—including groping, indecent exposure, propositions for sex and lewd comments by supervisors—against workers as young as 16 years old. Workers hope to reveal the numerous times they’ve requested assistance from management after sexual harassment on the job only to be ignored, mocked or retaliated against (via reduced hours).

Workers in places like Cincinnati, Chicago, Durham, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Myrtle Beach, Sacramento, St. Louis, Tucson and Cortland, N.Y. filed the EEOC charges.

“The majority of our clients allege harassment occurring precisely when the company claims it was making these reforms, and we can find no one who has heard of a new policy or training initiative,” said Gillian Thomas, senior staff attorney for the ACLU Women’s Rights Project. “The measures that McDonald’s claims to have implemented, or to have in the works, are better than nothing, but the company has yet to commit to meting out consequences for stores, whether corporate-owned or franchised, where harassment continues to flourish.”

No matter the region, McDonald’s employees shared similar stories. In Durham, N.C., a supervisor dismissed a female employee’s complaint about a co-worker who exposed himself, tried to pin her down in a walk-in cooler and made lewd comments stating that the co-workers couldn’t have done those things because his wife is involved in the supervisor’s church. In Sanford, Fla., a woman complained to her managers about a male co-worker who repeatedly touched her inappropriately and made lewd comments. In retaliation, managers cut her hours from 25 a week to as little as seven.

The same Sanford McDonald’s location had a separate sexual harassment suit filed against them last year.

“I was subjected to a humiliating and intimidating environment at McDonald’s and managers did nothing to stop it,” said Jamelia Fairley, who works at a corporate store in Sanford. “To make matters worse, after I reported the sexually-explicit language and inappropriate touching I regularly faced, my hours got cut, making it nearly impossible for me to support my daughter.”

Workers have demanded that the higher-ups at McDonald’s meet with them to chart a path to confronting sexual harassment within the company. They also want the company to implement and enforce the zero-tolerance sexual harassment policy already outlined in its manual and its franchisees’ policies. Employees at McDonald’s locations in London and Brazil have also spoken out against sexual harassment at their franchises.

“McDonald’s is a leader in the fast-food industry, yet lags behind when it comes to protecting the workers who make its success possible,” stated Eve Cervantez, an attorney with Altshuler Berzon who’s working on the sexual harassment cases with support from the TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund. “Year after year, worker after worker tells the same story of ineffectual response from McDonald’s to serious reports of sexual harassment. McDonald’s can and should do better.”