Meals are not Happy at McDonald’s
May 22, 2019
Lía Fiol-Matta, Esq., Ty Hyderally, Esq.
Once again, McDonald’s Corp., faces newly filed numerous complaints of sexual harassment of female employees by male coworkers and managers. On May 21, 2019, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the labor group Fight for $15 and the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund filed 23 new complaints against McDonald’s, by female workers as young as 16 years of age, accusing the company of gender-based discrimination, sexual harassment in the workplace and retaliation for complaining about the unlawful behavior. Twenty of the complaints were filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency charged with investigating gender discrimination and sexual harassment complaints under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (Civil Rights Act of 1964 § 7, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq (1964), three were filed as civil rights lawsuits and two additional suits were filed stemming from previous allegations.
The EEOC defines sexual harassment as “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature”. Harassment does not have to be sexual and can include “offensive remarks about a person’s sex. For example, it is illegal to harass a woman by making offensive comments about women in general.” In the recent filings, female McDonald workers accuse supervisors and coworkers of attempted rape, indecent exposure, groping, inappropriate touching, lewd comments and sexual offers. The women claim they were ignored, mocked or punished when they reported the harassment, which is unlawful retaliation, if proven. Some women had their hours reduced. Other women were disciplined without reason. Some of the group of women were denied raises. Other women were demoted while some were excluded from the management training programs. Some women were terminated. Others felt obligated to quit their jobs after McDonald’s failed to address their complaints, and the sexual harassment they endured became unbearable.
McDonald’s claims it has taken measures to address sexual harassment, such as implementing an anonymous hotline managed by a third party, training managers and distributing posters to restaurants prohibiting the unlawful behavior. The recent filings contain allegations that McDonald’s needs to do more to protect its female employees. More than 50 sexual harassment lawsuits and EEOC complaints against McDonald’s have been filed in the past three years and workers have walked out of their jobs on strike several times. Sources such as The News York Times (NYT) and National Public Radio (NPR) report that the restaurant industry has one of the highest rates of workplace sexual harassment. Such statistics are telling considering that the vast majority of those who experience sexual harassment never file a formal complaint, according to the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC).
This week’s sexual harassment filings came on the eve of the annual McDonald’s shareholders meeting on May 23, 2019 and are part of a larger movement by McDonald employees, who are also seeking to unionize and increase their minimum wage to $15 an hour. While the corporation claims it is not liable for labor violations and cannot bargain collectively with employees because most McDonald’s restaurants are franchises that operate independently, the issue of whether McDonald’s is a joint employer of its franchisee staff has not yet been decided by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), the federal agency that enforces labor protections under the National Labor Relations Act (29 U.S.C. §157).
If you have questions on sexual harassment/retaliation and would like to explore your legal rights, whether you work in the restaurant industry or any other type of employment, we encourage you to consult an employment attorney.
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