Twenty-five McDonald’s workers have filed sexual harassment charges and complaints against the behemoth fast-food chain, in what rights groups supporting the employees said Tuesday was an ongoing effort to address widespread harassment.
The American Civil Liberties Union, the labor group Fight for $15 and the Time's Up Legal Defense Fund announced the more than two dozen new complaints Tuesday during a news teleconference.
The claims include 20 Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaints, three civil rights lawsuits, and two lawsuits based on previous allegations.
“These brave McDonald’s workers, some only 16 or 17 years old at the time of the harassment, allege a wide range of unacceptable behavior at McDonald's,” Eve Cervantes, an attorney representing the women, said on the teleconference.
The allegations include claims of groping, indecent exposure, propositions for sex, and lewd comments by supervisors, Cervantes said. The workers also claim that when they reported the harassment, their complaints were “ignored or treated as a joke” and some suffered repercussions including reduced hours, unwarranted discipline and being fired, she said.
Latarsha Smith, who worked at a McDonald’s in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, said her time at the restaurant “went from being my second home to my personal hell.”
“When the harassment initially started, I was in denial," she said. "There was no way a person I respect and value would intentionally demean me, objectify me or make me feel so small."
Smith said her manager subjected her to “physical, verbal and sexual advances” and when she rebuffed him, she saw a “new side” to him. He cut her hours, gave her an inflexible schedule, threatened her job and was rude to her daily, she said. She was also kicked out of a manager training program, she said.
The new charges follow a series of previous complaints in 2016 and 2018 that lawyers and advocates supporting the employees said show the company is still not doing enough to prevent sexual harassment.
“For McDonald’s, time is past up,” Sharyn Tejani, director of the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund, said. “They should have made these changes already.”
After the news conference, workers were joined by television host Padma Lakshmi in a rainy-day demonstration outside of McDonald's Chicago headquarters.
Some of the employees who filed the new claims shared their stories with demonstrators, while other protesters in red rain ponchos held signs reading "McDonald’s: #MeToo" and "McDonald's: No More Sexual Harassment."
"We can't be happy about any meal at McDonald's until this issue is resolved," Laksmi said at the gathering.
"We want a program with real consequences for offenders at any McDonald's franchises or company -owned establishments put into place now," she said.
"We must stand shoulder-to-shoulder with these women taking action all around the country today standing up for the legal rights," she said. We must say loud and clear, hey McDonald's: We're not loving it."
"Hey McDonald's, we're not loving it!" the protesters chanted back.
McDonald's CEO Steve Easterbrook said in a letter to Lakshmi that the company was "committed to ensuring a harassment and bias-free workplace" and had worked with the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network over the past year to enhance its policies against sexual harassment, discrimination and retaliation.
Easterbrook wrote that the company rolled out a "third-party facilitated and interactive" training program last fall that "provides education and guidance on fostering a respectful workplace environment, including how to spot, address and prevent harassment and discrimination for all restaurant managers in U.S. Restaurants — both Corporate and Franchise." Almost 90 percent of McDonald's operators and general managers have taken the training, he added.
A McDonald's spokesperson said that over the last few weeks, the company has printed posters with the new policy and sent them to its restaurants.
McDonald's has more than 14,000 locations in the U.S. and employs about 850,000 people. The spokesperson said of those, about 90 to 95 percent were franchised. The company had implemented the policy on a corporate level and shared it with its franchises. The franchise restaurants were independent businesses and their owners were not required to implement the new policies and trainings, the spokesperson said.
Last September, McDonald’s workers in 10 cities across the U.S. went on strike to call attention to the issue of sexual harassment at the company and to call on it to do more to prevent it.