“Despite being on notice of pervasive problems of sexual harassment nationwide, McDonald’s fails to address such unlawful sexual harassment and the company culture that enables it,” the suit claimed.
The lawsuit by Ries names Chicago-based McDonald’s, as well as the franchise owner, Michael Dickerson. It is seeking class-action status and $US5 million ($7.3 million) in damages to compensate employees at the McDonald’s in Mason. The manager accused of abuse isn’t identified in the filing.
In a statement responding to the lawsuit, McDonald’s said that it is working with franchisees to create “safe and respectful” workplaces.
“There is a deeply important conversation around safe and respectful workplaces in communities throughout the US and around the world, and McDonald’s is demonstrating its continued commitment to this issue,” the statement said.
Dickerson, the franchise owner, could not immediately be reached for comment.
Last fall, McDonald’s workers in 10 cities went on strike to draw attention to the sexual harassment they face and demanded that the chain do more about the problem. And in May, the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund, the American Civil Liberties Union and labour group Fight for $US15 announced the filing of nearly two dozen harassment complaints against McDonald’s, most of them sent to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Over the past week, the chain has come under renewed scrutiny, after the McDonald’s board fired Easterbrook for exercising “poor judgment” in a consensual relationship with an employee.
In the #MeToo era, rules banning managers from dating their subordinates have become more and more common, as companies recognise the inherent power imbalances in such relationships and look to protect themselves from bad publicity and legal ramifications. Some experts speculated that McDonald’s fired Easterbrook to show its commitment to cracking down on problematic behavior at all levels of the company.
“McDonald’s creates and permits a toxic work culture from the very top,” Ries’ complaint Tuesday said, “as reflected by former-CEO Steve Easterbrook’s recent firing.”
Much of that abuse, workers have alleged, has taken place at the franchise level. McDonald’s has thousands of locations in North America, most of them independently owned, and has long argued that it should not be held liable for the behavior of employees at franchisees’ stores. In a major victory for the chain, a federal appeals court ruled in October that McDonald’s was not a “joint employer” of its franchisee staff.
Still, McDonald’s recently began offering new online and in-person training programs to its US employees to combat workplace sexual harassment. And it has established a hotline for employee complaints and clarified its policies on harassment. Those steps have not satisfied its critics, though, who are demanding that the chain’s upper management sit down with workers to discuss the issue.
“McDonald’s likes to say that it is powerless to stop the sexual harassment occurring in its franchise restaurants,” Gillian Thomas, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU Women’s Rights Project, said in a statement on Tuesday. “That would be laughable if it weren’t so destructive to the lives of tens of thousands of workers being left to fend for themselves.”
The New York Times