Charges allege retaliation against workers who speak up
By TIM ROWDEN
McDonald’s workers engaged in the Fight for $15 in St. Louis and 11 other cities walked off the job last week protesting the burger giant’s failure to take responsibility for its sexual harassment problem.
As they went on strike Oct. 26, cooks and cashiers also announced the filing of three new complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) that show harassment persists at McDonald’s restaurants across the country.
The new complaints, out of California, Louisiana and Illinois, all allege McDonald’s retaliated against workers who reported sexual harassment to managers.
In the latest complaint, filed this week, a 16-year-old worker in Waukegan, Ill. alleges she was harassed during her first month on the job by a shift manager, who repeatedly touched her inappropriately on her hips, lower back, and shoulders. When she reported what happened, management defended the shift manager and brushed off the teen worker, making her feel “unheard, embarrassed, like I had done something wrong, and even that I had something to apologize … for,” her complaint reads. Afterwards, the teen worker’s hours were reduced, resulting in lost income, and she never received the training she’d been promised.
“(T)he managers defended (my harasser) and did nothing to address the inappropriate behavior,” the 16-year-old worker said in her complaint. “I worry that there could be other girls my age also being harassed at that restaurant.
“I tried to continue working at the restaurant, but I did not feel safe because my managers…had made me feel like I had done something wrong by reporting (the) harassment and because I did not think they would do anything to protect me no matter what else happened.” The worker quit her job in June 2021 as a result of the experience.
In St. Louis, former McDonald’s worker Barbara Johnson said she was sexually harassed and groped by a manager at the restaurant where she worked
“The man came up, he grabbed my chest, he told me I looked good in all the right places, telling me that my uniform fitted me right. It wasn’t just a co-worker, it was the manager. The other manager, who I asked if I could get a shift change, she didn’t do anything about it, like it didn’t occur. So instead of finishing my shift, I left that day.
“I didn’t know what to do, I didn’t know who to turn to as far as him touching my breast and another co-worker that worked there. Every time I came in, they sexually harassed me with their eyes, and with their words. It wasn’t always physical… I feel like I should be able to go to work and feel safe no matter what I’ve got on, whether my pants are tight or loose. If my shirt is hugging me, so what? I’m not skinny. It shouldn’t matter how that makes you feel.”
Johnson said the harassment started not long after she started working for McDonald’s when the manager told her he could take her to the back of the store and show her where all the sauces were kept.
“Everybody laughed like that was funny or something,” Johnson said. “I was like what’s funny about you trying to take me to the back of the store by yourself?”
Workers from Chicago to Orlando walked off the job in a dozen cities, marching silently with #MeToo written on duct tape over their mouths, and holding banners reading “McDonald’s: Step Up For Survivors.”
In Chicago, workers at the front of a silent march carried a banner that read, in Spanish, “McDonald’s: El Acoso Sexual Es Unaceptable” (Sexual Harassment is Unacceptable).
In Detroit, workers carried placards that read, “We Brought our Chairs, Now Give Us the Table.”
And in Orlando, workers held signs that read, “McDonald’s: Meet with Survivors.”
McDONALD’s MANAGER: ‘LEAVE IT ALONE’
The two other charges announced last week alleged that when McDonald’s workers attempt to report workplace harassment, management responds either by perpetuating the culture of harassment or by retaliating against the worker for speaking up:
• In a corporate-owned California McDonald’s, a 40-year-old worker attempted to report a department manager’s inappropriate relationship with a 19-year-old worker. In response, the 40-year-old was told by the store’s general manager she was “causing drama,” according to the EEOC complaint. More attempts to report the alleged harassment went nowhere. The 40-year-old’s manager then began to verbally berate her and schedule her on difficult or understaffed shifts.
The manager in question was the same manager at a Monterey Park, Calif. McDonald’s who, according to three prior EEOC charges, dismissed repeated reports of harassment, suggested that the workers who reported harassment were to blame for the abuse that they suffered, failed to take any steps to address the harassment, and herself contributed to the hostile work environment that the employees experienced.
• At a Louisiana McDonald’s, a young woman faced lewd comments from a maintenance worker at least daily, starting on her very first day at work, in addition to other inappropriate advances, according to the complaint. At one point, the maintenance worker asked the worker to bend over while washing dishes and whispered in her ear, “Do you want me to hit that or what?” He also showed the worker a photo of his genitalia and asked if she was scared of how big it was. This occurred in front of the general manager, who did nothing.
The young woman reported the behavior to multiple managers who, according to her complaint, replied that she should “be nice,” “leave it alone,” and that she “must be lying.” Eventually, one manager began to retaliate against the worker for reporting the harassment she experienced and accused her of not performing her job duties. She lost her source of income, while the maintenance worker remains employed at the store.
14-YEAR-OLD WORKER RAPED
In the worst incident, a Pittsburgh McDonald’s manager, who was also a registered sex offender, raped a 14-year-old worker.
A recent federal EEOC suit alleged rampant harassment of teenage McDonald’s workers.
In all, McDonald’s workers joining the #Striketober wave of walkouts went on strike in Charleston, S.C.; Charlotte, Durham, and Marion, N.C.; Chicago; Detroit; Houston; Miami; Milwaukee; Orlando; St. Louis; and Tampa, and spoke out about the importance of coming together in a union to address the company’s harassment problem once and for all.
“I am 19 years old, just a few years older than the McDonald’s worker in Pittsburgh who was raped on the job by her sex offender manager,” said Aaliyah Moore, a Detroit McDonald’s worker. “McDonald’s is refusing to take responsibility… just like it refuses to take responsibility for the countless women and teenagers who have endured harassment on the job at McDonald’s stores across the globe.
“Workers should not feel uncomfortable or unsafe.,” Moore said. “We deserve more.”
Tuesday’s strike marks the fifth time workers in the Fight for $15 and a Union have gone on strike demanding McDonald’s address its culture of harassment. A 10-city walkout in 2018 was the first strike over sexual harassment in more than 100 years.
In addition to legal action in the U.S., there are active complaints over sexual harassment and misconduct at McDonald’s in Brazil, France, the U.K., and Australia. A ground-breaking complaint over McDonald’s systemic, global sexual harassment problem has also been filed with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).