McDonald’s continues to face litigation over alleged sexual harassment in its store culture. Although previous attempts against the McDonald’s Corporation in regard to sexual harassment at franchise restaurants have been unsuccessful, a new lawsuit against 100 Florida corporate stores has been filed.
Two plaintiffs, a current and a former employee, are attempting to get class certification so they can represent female employees and former employees at the restaurants, which are run directly by the corporation.
The plaintiffs allege that McDonald’s Corporation fosters a climate of “severe or pervasive sexual harassment and a hostile work environment, including groping, physical assaults, and sexually-charged verbal comments.” They also allege that McDonald’s failed to respond to the complaints appropriately. For example, they claim that the company failed to provide anti-sexual harassment training and also that it shuffled serial harassers between stores with no consequences.
They are seeking over $500 million in compensatory damages and additional punitive damages, which are meant to punish wrongdoing.
In a statement, McDonald’s said that it is committed to preventing workers from being subjected to sexual harassment. It said that it has already investigated the plaintiffs’ harassment and retaliation allegations and that it would investigate the new allegations raised in the complaint.
The plaintiffs disagree with McDonald’s assessment. “McDonald’s strategy in Florida appears to be: deny, ignore, and punish anyone who complains too loudly, and at times, move harassers from one restaurant to another restaurant, where they have access to and can further harass more women,” they said.
The two plaintiffs worked in the same store in Sanford, Florida. They claim they were harassed by coworkers, that they complained, and that McDonald’s failed to take appropriate action.
Sexual harassment is pervasive in fast food restaurants
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits all forms of gender discrimination, including sexual harassment and hostile work environments. Historically, people in low-wage positions such as those in fast food restaurants have been particularly vulnerable to this form of discrimination.
These are not the first allegations of pervasive sexual harassment at McDonald’s. In 2016, a wave of complaints was filed with the EEOC, followed by other lawsuits.
However, 95% of McDonald’s restaurants are franchises rather than corporate-owned establishments. McDonald’s has, so far successfully, argued that it does not have sufficient control over the actions of franchisees for it to be held liable for franchisee’s actions.
This class action, which was filed on Friday, April 10, does not involve actions by franchisees but instead focuses on alleged harassment at corporate-owned stores, where the McDonald’s corporation does exert control.
If you have experienced sexual harassment in your workplace, contact an experienced employment law attorney for an evaluation of your case.