Friday 22 June 2018

McDonald’s workers inspired by #MeToo movement file sex harassment claims

The women say when they reported the harassment, they were ignored or mocked, and in some cases suffered retaliation.

Protesters gather outside a McDonald’s restaurant in Minneapolis during a 2016 demonstration for higher wages (David Joles/AP)
Protesters gather outside a McDonald’s restaurant in Minneapolis during a 2016 demonstration for higher wages (David Joles/AP)

By David Crary

Sexual harassment complaints are being lodged against McDonald’s on behalf of 10 women who have worked at the fast food restaurant in nine US cities.

Two national campaign groups are teaming up for the legal move, which was energised by the #MeToo movement.

The workers — one of them a 15-year-old from St Louis — alleged 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 effort was organised by Fight for 15 (dollars, £11.15) , which campaigns to raise pay for low-wage workers.

The legal costs are being covered by the TIMES UP Legal Defence Fund, which was launched in January by the National Women’s Law Centre to provide lawyers for women who cannot afford to bring cases on their own.

The complaints, filed with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, are being announced on Tuesday, two days before the company’s annual shareholder meeting.

Responding to the claims, McDonald’s spokeswoman Terri Hickey said there is “no place for harassment and discrimination of any kind” in the workplace.

She said: “McDonald’s Corporation takes allegations of sexual harassment very seriously and are confident our independent franchisees who own and operate approximately 90% of our 14,000 US restaurants will do the same.”

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A rally outside a McDonald’s in Chicago in 2015 by the group helping women to file sexual harassment complaints ( M Spencer Green/AP)

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 and the franchisee — part the group’s effort to hold the company responsible for wage and employment issues at franchised locations.

The company claims its franchisees are independent business owners, and that stance has complicated efforts to unionise workers across the entire McDonald’s chain.

When similar sexual harassment charges were lodged by Fight for 15 workers two years ago, McDonald’s promised a review of those allegations.

However, Ms Hickey has declined to say whether that review led to any changes of policies and practices aimed at curtailing such harassment.

Among the new complainants is Tanya Harrell, 22, of New Orleans, who alleges her two managers teased her, but otherwise took no action after she told them of sustained verbal and physical harassment by a co-worker.

Ms Harrell, who makes 8.15 dollars (£6.06) 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. It gives me a bit of motivation and a bit of courage.”

In addition to 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.

The #MeToo movement that exploded last October has emboldened more women to speak out, said National Women’s Law Centre chief executive Fatima Goss Graves.

She said: “Most companies have a policy saying no sexual harassment, but how do you make that work?

“Right now, because of the huge power disparities, it’s easy to just wait out the complaints and nothing really changes.”

Activists say sexual harassment is pervasive in the fast food industry.

They cite a 2016 survey by Hart Research Associates — conducted for three advocacy groups — which calculated that 40% of female fast food workers experience unwanted sexual behaviour.

Press Association

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