A proposed class action filed against McDonald’s highlights what the case refers to as “pattern and practice of sex discrimination” at the fast food behemoth’s corporate-operated restaurants in Florida.
The two plaintiffs, one former and one current McDonald’s worker, look to represent hundreds of women who claim to have suffered “routine, severe sexual harassment and abuse” as part of the “toxic work culture” fostered by defendants McDonald’s Corporation, McDonald’s USA, LLC, and McDonald’s Restaurants of Florida, Inc. The plaintiffs claim that they have not only been subjected to “pervasive” harassment, including “groping, physical assaults, and sexually-charged verbal comments,” but have endured “swift and severe retaliation” for attempting to speak up about their mistreatment. The lawsuit alleges that McDonald’s policies and culture have allowed for the “tide of harassment and retaliation” to flow unabated while the alleged perpetrators skirt by without any punishment.
“In short,” the complaint states, “McDonald’s puts profits above people, protecting harassers so long as they keep flipping burgers, rather than protecting women workers subjected to unwelcome and offensive verbal and physical abuse.”
McDonald’s “Toxic Work Culture” Fosters Abuse, Case Says
The 49-page lawsuit out of Illinois federal court begins by highlighting the vast number of sexual discrimination and harassment complaints that have been levied against McDonald’s in recent years, stressing that the issues raised in the case are far from a new problem.
In fact, the suit alleges that McDonald’s has “long been aware of, and failed to address, this endemic problem” among the restaurant chain’s more than one million workers, many of whom are teenagers. Pointing to “hundreds of charges” filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and state civil rights agencies, over 80 federal lawsuits, and “countless” state lawsuits detailing the pervasive culture of sexual harassment that allegedly permeates McDonald’s restaurants, the lawsuit claims the fast food giant is “well aware” that its policies have failed to prevent and address the abuse.
The lawsuit alleges that the nature of McDonald’s hostile work culture has rippled down “from the very top” with the defendants’ failure to train both managers and employees on how to report and handle sexual harassment complaints. The case goes so far as to suggest that McDonald’s failed policies have encouraged harassment and abuse among employees who observed managers’ inaction in response to complaints.
By failing to revise its policies and practices in response to repeated complaints “of routine, severe sexual harassment and abuse,” McDonald’s has knowingly allowed and even encouraged sex discrimination by subjecting women to a hostile work environment, the case alleges.
While the lawsuit claims McDonald’s alleged culture of abuse is prevalent among its restaurants nationwide, the plaintiffs insist that the fast food franchise’s corporate-operated restaurants in Florida—of which there are over 100—are particularly “emblematic” of the “systemic sexual harassment problem.”
The Plaintiffs’ Experiences
The plaintiffs both say they worked (or work) at the defendants’ South French Avenue location in Sanford, Florida, where they experienced “groping, physical assaults, and sexually-charged verbal comments” at the hands of coworkers and even customers.
One plaintiff, who still worked at the restaurant at the time the complaint was filed, claims a coworker began harassing her with “unwelcome and sexual comments,” as well as physical assaults, beginning in December 2018:
Beyond the verbal taunts, [the plaintiff] endured frequent physical assaults by [the coworker]. [The coworker] began pinching her buttocks on numerous occasions, rubbing his hand in her groin area, and touching her hair. He also grabbed [the plaintiff] by the waist and pulled her back into his groin area, ‘dry-humping’ her from behind.”
The woman claims she repeatedly protested against her coworker’s behavior, which was often witnessed by other coworkers and managers. While the plaintiff reported the harassment to several managers, including her general manager, they “did nothing to stop the harassment,” the case says. Only after another coworker began harassing the plaintiff (including by making suggestive comments about her then-one-year-old daughter) did the general manager ask the plaintiff to submit written statements about the previous incidents, the lawsuit claims. Even then, the first coworker was simply transferred to another restaurant while the second was eventually terminated, the suit says.
The second plaintiff says she worked at the same South French Avenue restaurant until she was fired in September 2018 for reporting sexual harassment. According to the case, another coworker began making “unwelcome and sexual comments” to the plaintiff as well as “frequent physical assaults.” In one instance, the suit says, the man approached the plaintiff in the back of the store, “held his phone in front of her face displaying a picture of his erect penis, and said, ‘Do you think you can handle this,’ or words to that effect.”
The plaintiff claims that although she reported the coworker’s behavior to a manager, no action was taken in response to her complaint. She alleges the inaction on the part of management coupled with the “generally hostile work environment” that was tolerated at the restaurant discouraged her from reporting future abuse, believing her complaints would not be taken seriously.
Alleged Retaliation Against Victims
The lawsuit claims McDonald’s not only allows sexual harassment to occur in its restaurants but retaliates against those who complain about the abuse.
The first plaintiff says that after she reported harassment to her managers, her hours were “drastically reduced,” which made it even more difficult for her, as a single mother, to care for her young daughter while earning “barely above minimum wage.”
The second plaintiff says she was sent home on August 17, 2018 for purportedly being “confrontational” and was subsequently fired. In truth, the complaint alleges, the plaintiff was fired in retaliation for reporting sexual harassment.
The lawsuit alleges that McDonald’s, instead of punishing the harassers, levies the punishment against victims in an effort to further discourage the reporting of sexual harassment.
In the plaintiffs’ cases, one harasser allegedly left the restaurant of his own accord without any “remedial action,” while another was simply transferred to another store where the case says he had access to “a whole new group of women to harass.”
The suit claims that a McDonald’s operations consultant concluded after receiving reports from three women who said they had been harassed by the individual, along with at least two written statements, that “there was no significant evidence to support the allegation[s]” against the man. As the complaint puts it:
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.”
Stressing that “money cannot make someone whole for experiencing abuse,” the lawsuit looks to award $100,000 in damages to each female employee who, within the past four years, worked in a position lower than general manager at a McDonald’s corporate-owned restaurant in Florida.
How Do I Join the Lawsuit?
At this time, there is nothing you need to do to join the lawsuit. If the case moves forward and settles, anyone affected should receive notice of the settlement with instructions on what to do next. You can find out more about that process here.