10 McDonald’s workers file sex harassment claims, including two from Missouri

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WOMEN RALLY against sexual harassment outside a McDonald’s in Oakland, CA. – Rebecca Addison photo

One of the workers is a teen from St. Louis

New York, NY – Energized by the #MeToo Movement, two national advocacy groups are teaming up to lodge sexual harassment complaints against McDonald’s on behalf of 10 women who have worked at the fast food restaurant in nine cities.

The workers – including a 15-year-old from St. Louis and a woman from Kansas City, MO – who say they were subjected to groping, propositions for sex, indecent exposure and lewd comments by supervisors. According to their complaints, when the women reported the harassment, they were ignored or mocked, and in some cases suffered retaliation.

ORGANIZED BY FIGHT FOR $15

The legal effort was organized by Fight for $15, which campaigns to raise pay for low-wage workers. The legal costs are being covered by the TIMES UP Legal Defense Fund, which was launched in January by the National Women’s Law Center to provide attorneys for women who cannot afford to bring cases on their own.

The complaints, filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), were announced on May 22, just two days before the company’s annual shareholder meeting in Oak Brook, IL.

Responding to the claims, McDonald’s spokeswoman Terri Hickey said there is “no place for harassment and discrimination of any kind” in the workplace.

“McDonald’s Corporation takes allegations of sexual harassment very seriously and we are confident our independent franchisees who own and operate approximately 90 percent of our 14,000 U.S. restaurants will do the same,” Hickey said by email.

RESTAURANTS RUN BY FRANCHISEES

The restaurants named in the complaints are run by franchisees, not directly by McDonald’s. But the complaints name both McDonald’s Corp. and the franchisees.

Fight for $15’s has been fighting to hold McDonald’s and other companies that use the franchise model responsible for wage and employment issues at franchised locations. McDonald’s claims its franchisees are independent business owners – and that the company shouldn’t be held responsible for what happens there. That stance has complicated efforts to unionize workers across the McDonald’s chain.

When similar sexual harassment charges were lodged by Fight for $15 workers two years ago, McDonald’s promised a review of those allegations. However, Hickey – in her new response – declined to say whether that review led to any changes of policies and practices aimed at curtailing such harassment.

VERBAL/PHYSICAL HARASSMENT

Among the new complainants is Tanya Harrell, 22, of New Orleans, who alleges that her two managers teased her, but otherwise took no action after she told them of sustained verbal and physical harassment by a co-worker.

Harrell, who makes $8.15 an hour, says going public with her complaint may be emotionally taxing, but she is proud of her decision.

““I feel like I have a voice now,” she said in a telephone interview. “It gives me a bit of motivation and a bit of courage.”

In addition to New Orleans, St. Louis and Kansas City, MO, charges were filed by workers in Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, Miami; Orlando, FL; and Durham, NC.

SECOND ROUND OF ALLEGATIONS

The new allegations come almost two years after 15 McDonald’s workers in Fight for $15 filed a series of sexual harassment complaints against the company. Attorneys for the workers plan to ask the EEOC to consolidate or coordinate the newly filed charges, as well as some of the 2016 charges that remain pending.

What is different this time, organizers say, is that all of the women bringing charges are represented by attorneys due to the defense fund’s support. More broadly, the #MeToo Movement that exploded last October has emboldened more women to speak out and has prompted some employers to alter their approach to harassment, said National Women’s Law Center CEO Fatima Goss Graves.

“Most companies have a policy saying no sexual harassment, but how do you make that work?” she asked. “Right now, because of the huge power disparities, it’s easy to just wait out the complaints and nothing really changes.”

FOCUSED ON LOW-WAGE WOMEN

Eve Cervantez, a lawyer with the San Francisco-based public interest law firm Altshuler Berzon, is working on the new complaints. She says they represent an effort to extend the power of the #MeToo Movement to low-wage women whose predicaments have not drawn as much attention as harassment victims in Hollywood, the media and other sectors.

The women filing charges “want McDonald’s to take sexual harassment seriously and enforce its already existing zero tolerance policy,” Cervantez said. “We think McDonald’s can use its power and influence to guarantee a safer workplace for all its employees.”

HOTLINE FOR COMPLAINTS

Fight for $15 is calling on the company to hold mandatory trainings about sexual harassment for managers and employees and to create a safe, effective system for receiving and responding to complaints. As part of the initiative, Fight for $15 has established a hotline that workers can use to have their complaints reviewed by attorneys. The number is 844-384-4495.

Activists say sexual harassment is pervasive in the fast food industry. They cite a 2016 survey by Hart Research Associates – conducted for three advocacy groups – which calculated that 40 percent of female fast food workers experience unwanted sexual behavior on the job.

(Information from the Associated Press.)

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