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Two national advocacy groups are joining forces to lodge sexual harassment claims against McDonald's on behalf of 10 women who have worked at the fast food restaurant, the groups announced Tuesday.
The workers have filed charges with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission "alleging an array of illegal conduct in McDonald’s restaurants across nine cities," according to a press release.
The allegations include 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.
The legal efforts were organized by Fight for $15, which campaigns to raise pay for low-wage workers, and the legal costs are being covered by the TIME'S 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.
“McDonald’s advertises all over television saying it’s ‘America’s best first job,’ but my experience has been a nightmare,” Breauna Morrow, a 15-year old who works at a St. Louis McDonald’s, said in a statement released by Fight for $15. “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.”
McDonald's USA spokeswoman Terri Hickey said the corporation is committed to a culture of respect.
"At McDonald’s Corporation, we are and have been committed to a culture that fosters the respectful treatment of everyone. There is no place for harassment and discrimination of any kind in our workplace," Hickey said in a statement. "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."
Fight for $15 said 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 franchisee — part of Fight for $15's effort to hold the company responsible for wage and employment issues at independently owned locations.
The company claims its franchisees are independent business owners whom they have little control over.
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."
Attorney Amy Biegelsen, who is working on the case with financial support from the TIME'S UP Legal Defense Fund, said in a statement that even with a network of attorneys behind them, the workers face "barriers to speaking out."
“Some employees may feel that they have to choose between standing up for their rights and bringing home a paycheck. Any undocumented workers may fear deportation if they speak out," Biegelsen said. "Other employees might be afraid that they will not be believed, or will be ridiculed. All workers are entitled to their dignity as people, and to their rights under the law.”
In addition to in New Orleans and St. Louis, charges were filed by workers in Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, Miami; Orlando, Florida; Durham, North Carolina, and Kansas City, Missouri.
CORRECTION: (May 22, 2018, 1:25 p.m. ET): An earlier version of this article misspelled the last name of one of the attorneys fighting McDonald’s. She is Amy Biegelsen, not Blegelsen.