The massively popular fast-food restaurant chain McDonald's is facing serious sexual harassment allegations involving 10 employees spread across nine different cities. Backed by two national advocacy groups, the employees allege that they were groped and exposed to lewd comments, indecent exposure, and sexual propositions at the hands of their supervisors. A 15-year-old girl from St. Louis is among the list of claimants.
The complaints, which were filed with the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC), further state that staffers were ignored and mocked by supervisors when they spoke up about the inappropriate behavior. Some employees also claim that they suffered retaliation after making their complaints.
This is not the first time McDonald's has found itself in the middle of sexual harassment charges. In 2016, a total of 15 employees from eight different states made similar claims. The difference this time is that the claimants have legal representation thanks to two powerful organizations, Fight for $15 and TIMES UP Legal Defense Fund.
Fight for $15, which organized the legal efforts on behalf of the employees, is best known for its ongoing campaign to raise the minimum wage for low-income workers. The TIMES UP Legal Defense fund, which was launched earlier this year by the National Women's Law Center, is covering the associated legal costs.
McDonald's corporation has responded to the allegations through an email message from spokeswoman Terri Hickey in which she stated that the workplace is "no place for harassment or discrimination of any kind." The company further stated that they are taking the allegations very seriously and are confident their independent franchise owners will follow suit.
While each of the restaurants named in the claims are owned by franchisers, the lawsuit names both McDonalds corporation and the franchise owners in the case. This is part of an ongoing effort by Fight for $15 to hold the corporation responsible for influencing its franchises when it comes to wage and employment issues.
Following the original set of claims in 2016, McDonald's promised to carefully review the allegations. It's unclear, however, whether any policy changes resulted from the review.
The current cases are under EEOC review. If found to have merit, the commission will call for McDonald's to engage in informal settlement negotiations. If the negotiations break down, the EEOC could move forward with a lawsuit or issue the claimants "right to sue" letters.
Owners of companies of all sizes should heed this case as a warning. Sexual harassment claims in the workplace are always a serious matter. Companies can protect themselves by thoroughly training their management, ensuring they have clear zero-tolerance policies on record, and immediately addressing any claims brought to light by any member of management or staff.