McDonalds Faces A Class-Action Sexual Harassment Lawsuit

Supermajority Education Fund

November 27, 2019

A former McDonald’s employee filed a class-action lawsuit against the company and one of its franchises in Michigan on November 12. According to the lawsuit, Jenna Ries, the named class representative, was groped by a male swing manager and witnessed similar harassment of other female employees. The estimated size of the class, which the ACLU, Fight for $15, and the Times Up Legal Defense Fund are backing, is 50 to 60 people. 

Ries claims that, among other incidents, her assailant followed her into a walk-in freezer and pushed her against a wall, according to the lawsuit. Ries was promoted to swing manager after three months on the job and was not required to do any training on sexual harassment or how to report it. After Ries reported to the district manager, she was transferred to another location, and the swing manager stayed at the same restaurant. 

There are two approaches companies often take when they don’t fire or otherwise force employees to quit Gillian Thomas, one of the attorneys for the plaintiff and senior staff attorney at the ACLU, told Supermajority news. “They transfer the complaining party — so disrupting her life and her schedule and putting her in a new situation where who knows what awaits her at the new location — or simply transfer the harasser to new location rather than actually implement appropriate discipline.”

McDonald’s recently introduced its “Safe and Respectful Workplace Training,” but franchisees aren’t required to offer it, and corporate locations only make up 5 percent of locations. Thomas said an employee who did attend one franchise’s training told her that managers showed their employees videos of office workers instead of fast-food workers, joked about the videos, and rolled their eyes about how they “have to do this.”

“That’s not even remotely close to what’s needed to move the needle on culture change when the problem is as deep-rooted as this one,” she said.

McDonald’s has responded to the suit with a statement to the media that, “There is a deeply important conversation around safe and respectful workplaces in communities throughout the U.S. and around the world, and McDonald’s is demonstrating its continued commitment to this issue.”

Sexual harassment is a big problem in the food service industry. CKE Restaurants, a fast-food conglomerate that owns the Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. restaurant chains, is allegedly rife with sexual harassment, discrimination, and wage theft, according to a report released in 2016. Last year, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) sued an Arby’s franchisee in Alabama, the Associated Press reported. In a 2014 survey, 80 percent of women told Restaurant Opportunities Centers (ROC) United and Forward Together that they were harassed in some way by customers, and two-thirds of women experienced sexual harassment on a monthly basis by their managers. Food services made up the largest share of sexual harassment charges in the private sector made to the EEOC from 2005 to 2015.