Two social and economic justice movements converged on Tuesday as Fight for 15 and the Time's Up Legal Defense Fund lodged sexual harassment complaints against McDonald's on behalf of 10 employees of the fast food chain.
"McDonald's advertises all over television saying it's 'America's best first job,' but my experience has been a nightmare," said Breauna Morrow, a 15-year old who was repeatedly harassed by a coworker at a St. Louis McDonald's. "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."
"Few women working in low-wage jobs have the means or the financial security to challenge sexual harassment...McDonald’s is perfectly positioned—if it chooses—to take the lead in an industry that's rampant with abuse." —Sharyn Tejani, Time's Up Legal Defense Fund
"The workers filing charges today want McDonald's to take sexual harassment seriously," said Eve Cervantez, an attorney who is working on the cases with Time's Up. "McDonald's is one of the largest restaurant chains on earth and should use its power and influence to guarantee a safe workplace."
In addition to Morrow, the 10 plaintiffs in the lawsuit include an employee from New Orleans who declined to report an attempted sexual assault by a coworker after her earlier complaint of harassment was mocked by her manager and a Chicago employee whose manager harassed her.
Both the McDonald's Corporation and the franchisees are named in the lawsuit. The suit was filed a day after hundreds of employees held a demonstration outside the company's new Chicago headquarters to demand a minimum wage of $15 per hour. On Tuesday, workers marched again to draw attention to the harassment claims.
— Fight For 15 Chicago (@chifightfor15) May 22, 2018
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Fight for $15 has led the national fight to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour, while Time's Up was borne out of the #MeToo movement, which began last year to fight against sexual harassment and misconduct in all American workplaces—from movie sets to farms to fast food restaurants. The Time's Up Legal Defense Fund provides attorneys to women who cannot afford legal representation after being sexually harassed at work.
The fights for fair pay and safety in the workplace are intertwined, say the two advocacy groups—and as long as they are denied fair wages, workers will be susceptible to the kind of harassment and mistreatment the #MeToo movement and Time's Up are trying to combat.
"Some employees may feel that they have to choose between standing up for their rights and bringing home a paycheck," Amy Biegelsen, another attorney working with Time's Up, said in a statement. "All workers are entitled to their dignity as people, and to their rights under the law."
"Few women working in low-wage jobs have the means or the financial security to challenge sexual harassment," added Sharyn Tejani, director of the Legal Defense Fund. "As shown by these charges and thousands of intakes we have received at the Fund from women in every industry, those who report their abuse are often fired, demoted, or mocked—and since nothing is done to stop the harassment, nothing changes. McDonald’s is perfectly positioned—if it chooses—to take the lead in an industry that's rampant with abuse."
A recent study by the non-profit Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC) found that harassment and abuse in the restaurant industry has a ripple effect throughout the US workforce. About 80 percent of women in the industry—often the first business Americans work in as teens and young adults—report facing harassment on the job. Early exposure to harassment normalizes the experience and prevents employees from reporting such incidents later in their careers.
"Having to struggle to make minimum wage...furthers the oppression and normalizes” harassment and mistreatment faced by food industry workers, one former restaurant worker told ROC.