McDonald’s has been slapped with another round of lawsuits from current and former employees who claim management brushed off or ignored their experiences of sexual misconduct at work.
The Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund, the Fight For $15 movement to raise minimum wages and the American Civil Liberties Union announced the charges Tuesday, outlining 23 new complaints against the fast food chain and two lawsuits stemming from previous allegations.
McDonald’s cooks and cashiers at both corporate and franchise locations say they reported instances of sexual harassment and assault to their supervisors, but were either ignored or mocked, according to the lawsuits.
Tanya Harrell, a McDonald’s worker from Louisiana whose co-worker allegedly attempted to rape her in a bathroom stall, said “nothing has changed” since her colleagues first began speaking out about sexual harassment at McDonald’s three years ago.
“We cannot wait any longer for action,” Harrell said in a statement Tuesday. “McDonald’s, it’s time to sit down with the workers who help make your $6 billion in profits possible so, together, we can stamp out harassment once and for all.”
The advocacy groups, joined by “Top Chef” host Padma Lakshmi, are expected to hold a press conference outside McDonald’s corporate headquarters in Chicago later Tuesday to support the workers and raise awareness of their fight.
In a letter addressed to Lakshmi on Sunday, McDonald’s stated it’s “committed to ensuring a harassment and bias-free workplace” and outlined recent efforts the company has taken to “create safe and respectful” workplaces, including a bolstered sexual harassment policy and a hotline for reporting complaints.
“In the next two months, McDonald’s and [the nonprofit Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network] will facilitate additional conversations with U.S. restaurant employees and other relevant external stakeholder groups to help inform and further strengthen our policy and trainings,” the company wrote in its letter to Lakshmi. “These conversations underscore our commitment to continuous improvement and being responsive to the changing needs of our business and employees — now and in the future.”
But Gillian Thomas, an attorney with the ACLU Women’s Rights Project, called the fast food chain’s latest efforts “a day late, a dollar short.”
“New policies and new trainings are steps in the right direction, but that’s all they are,” Thomas said in a phone call with reporters Tuesday. “Preventative policies have to be backed up with consequences for violating them.”
A spokeswoman for McDonald’s told HuffPost that the company did not plan to address the allegations publicly outside of its letter to Lakshmi. She noted that roughly 95 percent of U.S. McDonald’s locations are independently-owned franchises and do not fall under the corporate umbrella.
Thomas, during the call with reporters Tuesday, suggested franchises should lose the privilege of being called McDonald’s if they fail to provide employees with a harassment-free workplace.
Of the 23 new complaints announced Tuesday, 20 of the charges were sent to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the three others were filed as civil rights lawsuits, a spokeswoman for Fight For $15 told HuffPost.
Some of the workers say they were as young as 16 or 17 years old when they were subjected to sexual misconduct at McDonald’s and that their complaints resulted in their hours being cut or termination, according to the lawsuits.
In one instance, an adult male allegedly preyed upon his 16-year-old co-worker in Tucson, Arizona, by repeatedly making suggestive comments and touching her inappropriately. The young woman says she was retaliated against at work after she rebuffed his advances and was eventually terminated.
“It’s a brutal reality across the fast food industry that over a million workers — especially women of color — experience sexual harassment and abuse as a routine part of their job,” Sharyn Tejani, Director of the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund, said in a statement. “Every day, workers are forced to choose between getting a paycheck or speaking up about their abuse.”
Dozens of sexual harassment charges have been filed against McDonald’s since 2016. Eve Cervantes, an attorney representing the workers, said during the call with reporters Tuesday that many of those charges are still under investigation by the EEOC.
Need help? Visit RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Online Hotline or the National Sexual Violence Resource Center’s website.