A former McDonald’s employee has filed a proposed class action lawsuit in which she alleges that thousands of the fast food giant’s restaurants are plagued by a toxic work culture that emanates “from the very top,” with workers routinely subject to abuse, hostility, discrimination and sexual harassment. Although McDonald’s is well aware of the harassment and mistreatment at its restaurants, the company and co-defendants McDonald’s Corporation and Michigan franchisee MLMLM Corporation have taken no steps to address either the widespread toxic environment or “the company culture that enables it,” the 30-page lawsuit says.
Inaction from McDonald’s, Managers?
McDonald’s workers across the country—many of whom are teenagers—have finally begun to speak out about the “mistreatment that is endemic to their daily lives at the company,” the lawsuit begins. While sexual harassment and workplace hostility rank alongside unlivable hourly wages as the most critical issues workers are protesting, many, the case says, have also begun to come forward about the “swift and severe retaliation” incurred after objecting to such treatment to managers. Unfortunately for workers, McDonald’s managers, the plaintiff scathes, are more likely to stand by and do nothing rather than protect their employees.
According to the lawsuit, while McDonald’s has long been on notice of rampant sexual harassment and employee mistreatment at its franchised and corporate-owned restaurants, the company has paid no more than lip service in training its staff to appropriately handle and prevent such. McDonald’s, the suit charges, does nothing to train managers on how to respond to sexual harassment complaints from crew members, much less hold accountable managers who “allow harassment to flourish” or monitor repeat offenders. Instead of firing those who repeatedly harass other employees, McDonald’s simply shuffles the individuals around to other restaurants where, according to the case, they’re “free to harass anew.”
The Plaintiff’s Experience
At the center of the lawsuit is the McDonald’s restaurant located at 730 North Cedar Street in Mason, Michigan, one of 11 franchises operated by MLMLM Corporation in and around Lansing. The lawsuit describes this location, where the 32-year-old plaintiff was employed from Fall 2017 through March 2019, as “emblematic” of the systemic sexual harassment, discrimination and abuse to which McDonald’s managers have allegedly subjected workers. According to the plaintiff, this misconduct has included groping and physical assaults, in addition to “sexually-charged verbal taunts, insults, and derisive comments.”
Due to good performance and previous managerial experience, the plaintiff was promoted from crew member to “swing manager,” a role for which the woman claims she received “no specific training regarding management obligations to prevent or remedy harassment.” Almost immediately after stepping into the swing manager role, the plaintiff, the lawsuit alleges, was subject to derogatory name-calling from a male swing manager. This was often done in front of other co-workers and the restaurant’s general manager, the suit says—and the alleged harassment did not stop there. From the lawsuit:
Beyond the verbal taunts, Plaintiff endured routine physical assaults by the swing manager. He frequently grabbed her body parts, including her crotch, breasts, and buttocks. He pulled her hair, and pushed her into other workers.
Once, when he was working next to Plaintiff in the kitchen, the swing manager placed his penis in Plaintiff’s hand.
On one occasion, Plaintiff walked into the walk-in freezer to retrieve supplies, and the swing manager followed her inside and shoved her up against one of the walls. She managed to push him off of her and ran out.”
According to the suit, when the plaintiff said to the swing manager “stop,” “no,” leave me alone” and “do not touch me,” the man “responded by yelling at her and threatening to get her fired.” This scenario was common, the lawsuit continues, as the swing manager “routinely threatened to get [the plaintiff] fired for not agreeing to his sexual propositions.” Further still, the case says the restaurant’s general manager was “regularly present” with this particular swing manager, yet “did nothing to stop him.”
The plaintiff requested a transfer around March 2019 to another McDonald’s because, the case says, “she could not handle the severe and pervasive harassment” to which she was being subjected. Her transfer request was denied by the general manager, which, the suit says, led the plaintiff to ask to not be scheduled with the swing manager. After a few days, this request fell by the wayside, the suit claims.
The overall effect the plaintiff’s daily workplace experience had on her well-being was palpably negative and soon crept into other aspects of her life, the lawsuit claims:
Because of pervasive harassment from the swing manager, and the generally hostile work environment that she was forced to endure, Plaintiff often came home from work crying. She felt physically ill. The harassment negatively affected her relationship with her boyfriend and with her father. The harassment caused Plaintiff severe emotional distress and anxiety.
Plaintiff dreaded going to work. She only went because she needed the money.”
The case also says the plaintiff experienced further emotional distress and anxiety related to the swing manager’s threats to fire her for rejecting his sexual advances.
According to the lawsuit, it was only after the swing manager “lied about [the plaintiff’s] behavior toward other workers” that a meeting was subsequently held between the woman and the restaurant’s district manager. At the meeting, the plaintiff reported the harassment to which she’d been subjected, the case says. While the plaintiff was transferred to another McDonald’s, the male swing manager continued to work at the North Cedar location, according to the suit.
An Allegedly “Abusive and Hostile” Workplace for Women
The case elaborates that other crew members at the 730 North Cedar McDonald’s “frequently observed and experienced sexual harassment” reportedly perpetrated by the swing manager, who was known to employees as “the minor violator” and an “HR nightmare” due to his allegedly “outrageous and visible” propensity for “sexually harassing female workers, including underage girls.” Across multiple pages, the lawsuit lays out an alleged pattern of conduct by the man—as well as inaction by the general manager—at the 730 North Cedar Street McDonald’s that effectively forced female workers to endure a workplace “permeated with sexual harassment so severe or pervasive” that it made the restaurant an “abusive and hostile workplace for women.”
Equally problematic, the case continues, was that the swing manager’s inappropriate conduct emboldened other male employees who “followed his example and acted in a similar way” that effectively stoked the sexually inappropriate workplace environment with next to no action from management:
Workers would often touch each other inappropriately on the job, such as by tickling each other, hugging, making dirty jokes, punching each other, sticking a finger in other workers’ ears, and grabbing other worker’s buttocks. Nobody in management took action to end of prevent such harassment and sexually hostile work environment, even though the General Manager was aware of the conduct.”
The lawsuit reiterates that McDonald’s workers at the 730 North Cedar restaurant were provided with little information concerning what constitutes sexual harassment or the defendants’ policies on how to report such. As the lawsuit tells it, McDonald’s failure to comprehensively tackle the sexual harassment problem at the plaintiff’s former restaurant effectively “signaled that harassment was permitted, and that managers and harassers would not be held accountable.” As a result of McDonald’s apparent facilitation of a sexual hostile work culture, proposed class members have suffered “emotional distress, humiliation, indignity, outrage, embarrassment, and harm to reputation,” the lawsuit alleges.
The lawsuit alleges violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Michigan’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, and notes that the plaintiff on November 8 filed a sexual discrimination charge with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
Who Does the Lawsuit Look to Cover?
The lawsuit looks to represent a class of all female employees who work or worked in a position below that of General Manager at the defendants’ McDonald’s restaurant located at 730 North Cedar Street in Mason, Michigan.