For Immediate Release

Organization Profile: 
Contact: 

Jennifer Owens, jennifer.owens@thefightfor15.org, 312-218-8785

#MeToo, McDonald’s

Fight For $15, TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund Confront Sexual Harassment at McDonald’s

Cooks, Cashiers File EEOC Charges Alleging Groping, Lewd Comments, Retaliation for Speaking Out

Despite #MeToo Movement, Harassment Persists for Golden Arches’ Workers; Hotline Launched for McDonald’s, Other Fast-Food Workers to Get Legal Help

CHICAGO - The Fight for $15, with support from the TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund, announced Tuesday an effort to challenge widespread sexual harassment faced by McDonald’s workers on the job across the country—including groping, propositions for sex and lewd comments by supervisors— that is all too often ignored by management.

Press Conference Details:

WHEN: Tuesday, May 22, 2018 at 11am CT

WHERE: McDonald’s Headquarters

               1045 W. Randolph

               Chicago, IL 60607

WHO: Adriana Alvarez, Chicago McDonald’s worker (MC)

           Sharyn Tejani, Executive Director of TIME’s Up Legal Defense Fund

           Meredith Johnson, attorney at Altshuler Berzon

           Amy Biegelsen, attorney at Outten Golden

           Tanya Harrel, New Orleans McDonald’s worker

           Breauna Morrow, St. Louis McDonald’s worker

           Kimberley Lawson, Kansas City McDonald’s worker

In the last several days, cooks and cashiers have filed 10 charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, alleging an array of illegal conduct in McDonald’s restaurants across nine cities, workers said Tuesday. The TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund provided financial support to investigate and file the charges, which will be officially announced Tuesday morning at a press conference outside McDonald’s new downtown Chicago headquarters days ahead of the company’s annual shareholder meeting. The workers who filed sexual harassment charges allege:

  • Supervisors did nothing when a 15-year-old cashier in St. Louis complained of a co-worker who repeatedly harassed her using graphic, sexual language;
  • Managers mocked a New Orleans woman who complained about a coworker groping her, telling her she was probably giving the worker “sex appeal” and that she should take it to the “next level” with him. When a second co-worker attempted to sexually assault her in the restaurant’s bathroom, she did not report it because her first complaint was not taken seriously;
  • Managers told a Durham worker they wanted to have sex with her, including one who suggested a threesome with her and a coworker and another who asked to have sex in his car. They made fun of her when she complained about a coworker who regularly propositioned her for sex; and
  • A manager asked a Chicago worker if she wanted to see his penis and asked “how many dicks” she could take. He narrated lurid fantasies about what he would do if he got the worker or another crew member in the bathroom alone. She hesitated to complain because the general manager encouraged workers to flirt with customers, but when she did report the harassment, she was fired.

“McDonald’s advertises all over television saying it’s ‘America’s best first job,’ but my experience has been a nightmare,” said Breauna Morrow, the 15-year old who works 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.”

The charges were filed by workers in Chicago, Detroit, Durham, Kansas City (Missouri), Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, Orlando and St. Louis. They reveal instances when workers alerted management after experiencing sexual harassment on the job, yet their complaints were brushed off, went unaddressed, or, in some cases, they were mocked or met with retaliation, including termination.

“McDonald’s has zero tolerance for any form of sexual harassment of any employee,” the company’s Operations and Training Manual reads. “Sexual harassment is prohibited because it may be intimidating, an abuse of power, and is inconsistent with McDonald’s policies, practices and management philosophy.”

The workers are demanding McDonald’s effectively implement and enforce the zero-tolerance policy against sexual harassment outlined in its manual and in its franchisees’ policies. They’re also calling on the company to hold mandatory trainings for managers and employees and to create a safe and effective system for receiving and responding to complaints.

“The workers filing charges today want McDonald’s to take sexual harassment seriously,” said Eve Cervantez, an attorney with Altshuler Berzon who is working on the cases with financial support from the TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund. “McDonald’s is one of the largest restaurant chains on earth and should use its power and influence to guarantee a safe workplace.”

The TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund—housed and administered by the National Women’s Law Center Fund LLC--connects those who experience workplace sexual harassment with legal and communications assistance and provides funding for legal representation in select cases, including the charges filed today.

“By funding the legal representation in these cases, we hope to help ensure that these charges will be a catalyst for significant change,” said Sharyn Tejani, Director of the TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund. “Few women working in low-wage jobs have the means or the financial security to challenge sexual harassment. 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.”  

In addition to the sexual harassment charges, the Durham worker alleged in her charge that she was discriminated against because she is Black. The worker said her shift manager is rude to Black workers and refers to them as “ghetto.” When she reported a customer called her “burnt” and made a comment referring to lynching, the supervisor laughed, according to the charge.

Also Tuesday, a former Detroit McDonald’s worker who was regularly sexually harassed by her shift manager said she was consulting with an attorney and was likely to file a suit.

The supervisor repeatedly asked her out, commented on her appearance and demanded she talk with him, she said at the press conference. On at least one occasion, he threatened to hit her with a frying pan for rebuffing his advances. He also drove to and parked in front of her house on one occasion. When she reported the behavior to the restaurant’s manager, she was told she was “blowing it out of proportion.” The harassment ended only when she quit.

“Even with this network of attorneys working together to give voice to women’s stories, we expect that employees still face barriers to speaking out,” said Amy Biegelsen, an attorney with Outten & Golden LLP who is also working on the cases with financial support from the TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund. “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.  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.”

The charges announced Tuesday come two years after McDonald’s workers in the Fight for $15 filed a series of sexual harassment charges against the company and show that despite the spotlight on the issue in Hollywood and the media, little has changed for the burger giant’s frontline workers. Attorneys for the workers said they planned to ask the EEOC to consolidate or coordinate for investigation the newly filed charges, as well as some of the previously filed charges.

“The #MeToo movement may have changed things for actresses in Hollywood, but these new charges show that sexual harassment is still on the menu at McDonald’s,” said Adriana Alvarez, a McDonald’s worker from Chicago and member of the Fight for 15 National Organizing Committee. “With support from the TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund, workers in the Fight for $15 now have a powerful ally in our ongoing effort to make McDonald’s restaurants safe places for all workers.”

To help McDonald’s and other fast-food workers who are harassed get the legal help they need, the Fight for $15 announced a hotline—844.384.4495— for workers to have their charges reviewed by attorneys. The Fight for $15 and TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund also encouraged workers to fill out the intake form on the TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund website in order to be connected with legal information and attorneys.  

Sexual harassment is rampant in the fast-food industry, according to a 2016 survey by Hart Research Associates conducted for the National Partnership for Women and Families, the Ms. Foundation and Futures without Violence. Forty percent of female fast-food workers experience unwanted sexual behavior on the job. The 2016 Hart Research survey also showed that 42 percent of women in the industry who experience unwanted sexual behavior feel forced to accept it because they can’t afford to lose their jobs. It also reported that more than one in five women who face sexual harassment (21%) report that, after raising the issue, their employer took some negative action, including cutting their hours, changing them to a less desirable schedule, giving them additional duties, and being denied a raise.

"As the country’s second-largest employer, McDonald’s has a responsibility to set workplace standards in both the fast-food industry and the economy overall, said U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill). “The sexual harassment alleged by McDonald’s cooks and cashiers in these charges is unacceptable. I applaud them for their courage in speaking out and urge corporate management to take immediate action so the women and men who are key to McDonald’s billions in profits can come to work without worrying about being sexually harassed. And I thank the Fight for $15 and all those organizing to make sure that all workers receive good wages, good benefits, and the respect they deserve.”  

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Fast food workers are coming together all over the country to fight for $15 an hour and the right to form a union without retaliation. We work for corporations that are making tremendous profits, but do not pay employees enough to support our families and to cover basic needs like food, health care, rent and transportation.

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