McDonald's workers file federal complaint alleging widespread sexual harassment

McDonalds workers and their supporters protest outside of a company-owned restaurant on April 3, 2018 in Chicago, Illinois.
McDonalds workers and their supporters protest outside of a company-owned restaurant on April 3, 2018 in Chicago, Illinois.
Photo: Scott Olson (Getty Images)

McDonald’s employees this week have been demonstrating outside the company’s new downtown Chicago headquarters as part of their Fight For $15 campaign to raise wages and expand workers’ rights. They held a press conference Tuesday to announce the filing of a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging sexual harassment of McDonald’s workers at locations in nine cities. Nation’s Restaurant News reports cooks and counter employees say “they were subjected to unwanted advances by superiors that included lewd sexual comments and requests for sex in bathrooms and cars.”

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The allegations are troubling. A Durham, North Carolina manager is accused of proposing threesomes with employees. In Chicago, a manager allegedly described detailed accounts of “what he would do” if he got two employees alone with him in a bathroom. A 15-year-old employee of a St. Louis McDonald’s described her treatment there as “a nightmare.” When employees tried to bring these claims to light at their restaurants, Fight For $15 says they were mocked, ignored, or fired. Fight For $15 is also calling for mandatory company-wide training on sexual harassment and the creation of a more effective system for lodging complaints.

According to the Chicago Tribune, Fight For $15 workers brought similar complaints to McDonald’s attention two years ago, and the company promised to review them. A company spokesperson declined to comment on whether those complaints led to any internal policy changes.

But McDonald’s spokesperson Terri Hickey told NRN that there is no place for sexual harassment or discrimination at its company: “McDonald’s Corporation takes allegations of sexual harassment very seriously and are confident our independent franchisees who own and operate approximately 90 percent of our 14,000 U.S. restaurants will do the same.”

The EEOC will now have to decide whether to bring a case against McDonald’s based on the civil-rights complaints filed with the office. If the EEOC declines to prosecute McDonald’s, the workers and Fight For $15 must ask the office for permission to file their own lawsuit. The complaint against McDonald’s indicates that the #metoo movement, which has had major repercussions across Hollywood and the restaurant industry, also is gaining ground among employees of more casual restaurants.

“I know I’m not the only one and that’s why I’m speaking out, so others don’t have to face the harassment I’ve gone through,” the 15-year-old St. Louis McDonald’s employee, Breauna Morrow, told NRN.

Kate Bernot is a freelance writer and a certified beer judge. She was previously managing editor at The Takeout.

DISCUSSION

Back when I was 16 and working at Wendy’s there was a man who was regularly invading my personal space and asking me things like if I’d like to “play the skin flute.” Being 16 and having not quite yet learned the art of telling scum bags to f*ck off, I didn’t really know what to do. I talked to a manager, he knew the guy was a creep but hadn’t had success getting the store manager to address it in the past. He looks left, looks right, looks back at me and says “Listen girl, tell your mama. Seriously. I mean it.” So I took his advice, she called the store manager, and the creep was finally fired.

Sad state of affairs when a store manager won’t deal with harassment until employee’s parents start calling....

Every fast food gig I worked was a very immature environment full of behavior that would get people fired in any other line of work.

I remember “cup checking” being a thing where people would take an empty cup, place it over the genitals of unsuspecting coworkers, and hit it. Managers not only ignored this behavior, some of them participated in it.

I also would often wind up covering 2-3 positions at a time because whomever was dating whichever manager at the time would just be hanging out in the back office with them doing I don’t want to know what.

Super classy.