Amsterdam News Staff

McDonald’s workers fired last year at three stores in Virginia filed a civil suit against the company, alleging that a pattern of racial and sexual discrimination flourished at the franchise locations.

The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia by 10 former workers at three Clarkesville and South Boston McDonald’s stores, alleges that last May the company fired more than a dozen Black workers simultaneously because there were “too many Black people [working] in the store,” they “didn’t fit the profile” desired at the establishments and they “need to get the ghetto out of the store.”

In the complaint, workers contend that McDonald’s Corp. has control over “nearly every aspect of its restaurants’ operations” so they’re responsible for the harassment and discrimination workers faced. Workers contacted the company to report the discrimination, but the company did nothing.

Willie Betts, one of the plaintiffs who was fired from his job as a cook at the South Boston McDonald’s, said the termination came abruptly and without warning.

“All of a sudden, they let me go, for no other reason than I ‘didn’t fit the profile’ they wanted at the store,” said Betts in a statement. “I had no idea what they meant by the right profile until I saw everyone else that they fired as well. I worked at McDonald’s for almost five years. I was on time every day at 4 o’clock in the morning to open the store, and I never had a disciplinary write-up.

“They took away the only source of income I have to support my family,” said Betts. Workers are being assisted in the suit by the local chapter of the NAACP and the Fight for $15 movement.

The fast-food giant has faced increased scrutiny over its role as an employer at franchise stores and whether it’s responsible for a franchise owner’s actions and their employees’ well being. Late last year, federal officials filed a dozen complaints, charging that the company was a joint employer responsible for labor violations at stores across the country. McDonald’s officials continue to insist that they’re not the bosses at these stores.

“We asked McDonald’s corporate to help us get our jobs back, but the company told us to take our concerns to the franchisee—the same franchisee that just fired us,” said plaintiff Pamela Marable, who was fired from her job at the South Boston McDonald’s, in a statement. “McDonald’s closely monitors everything we do, from the speed of the drive-thru line, to the way we smile and fold customers’ bags, but when we try to tell the company that we’re facing discrimination, they ignore us and say that it’s not their problem.”

The complaint also alleges that the McDonald’s Corp. representative who conducted regular inspection visits at the stores learned of the terminations after they occurred in mid-May of 2014, but didn’t take action even though a local newspaper reported on the firing. Workers claim that high-ranking supervisors regularly called the Clarkesville McDonald’s “the ghetto store,” referred to Black workers as “bitch,” “ghetto” and “ratchet” and disciplined them for rule infractions that were forgiven when committed by white workers. Workers also accuse supervisors of routinely touching the legs and buttocks of Black female workers and offering better working conditions in exchange for sexual favors.

The Rev. Kevin Chandler, president of the South Boston chapter of the NAACP and vice president of the NAACP Virginia State Conference, said that the actions of McDonald’s supervisors should be a relic of the past.

“The treatment of these McDonald’s workers seems like it’s out of another era, but sadly, the racism is a reality they are confronting today,” said Chandler in a statement. “The South Boston NAACP will stand with these fired workers until McDonald’s takes responsibility for the inhumane treatment these workers faced in its stores.”