McDonald’s workers file sexual harassment complaint

Leslie Patton
Bloomberg News

More than a dozen McDonald’s Corp. workers have complained to the U.S. government that the company’s training policies don’t protect female workers from sexual harassment.

Fifteen employees from stores across the U.S. filed complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging they’ve been victims of harassment, including unwanted sexual comments and touching, advocacy group Fight for $15 said Wednesday in a statement. The organization, which is backed by the Service Employees International Union, helped the workers file their complaints last month against corporate- and franchise-owned restaurants.

The complaints by the employees, all members of Fight for $15, are the latest in the battle to unionize America’s fast-food workers. Since 2012, the group has put pressure on McDonald’s and other fast-food chains for better pay and working conditions by organizing strikes and protests in the U.S. and abroad.

“The whole point is to make those jobs much better,” said Nelson Lichtenstein, director at the Center for the Study of Work, Labor and Democracy at University of California at Santa Barbara, who’s not involved in the case. Fight for $15 is using the complaints as “a way of leveraging against this big corporation. It’s kind of a negotiation in some way.”

McDonald’s is reviewing the allegations, spokeswoman Terri Hickey said.

“There is no place for harassment and discrimination of any kind in McDonald’s restaurants or in any workplace,” Hickey said in an e-mail. “We take any concerns seriously.”

Flint employee

Cortez Clerk, a McDonald’s employee in Flint, Michigan, said in a complaint filed Sept. 11 that her shift manager began making unwelcome physical and verbal advances beginning in June. The manager would try to grab her and rub his genitals against her body, according to the filing. Clerk complained to both her general manager and someone at the corporate office. Clerk quit when nothing was done about the harassment, Fight for $15 said in a statement.

In another complaint, Kristi Maisenbach, a worker in Folsom, California, alleged her supervisor, “grabbed her breasts on several occasions and would intentionally rub his genitals against her butt.” The same supervisor sent Maisenbach a text message offering $1,000 for oral sex and became hostile when she complained to her general manager. Maisenbach’s hours were reduced and she said she was forced to quit because she could no longer make a living at the restaurant.

Zero tolerance

McDonald’s, which has more than 14,000 domestic locations, has been trying to turn around its business as consumers looking for new and healthier options increasingly turn to fast-casual eateries. The company brought in new Chief Executive Officer Steve Easterbrook in March 2015 to lead the effort. In the most recently reported quarter, U.S. same-store sales rose 1.8 percent, helped by all-day breakfast and value deals.

The workers are demanding that McDonald’s adhere to a zero-tolerance policy against sexual harassment that Fight for $15 says is outlined in the company’s training manual.

The EEOC investigates discrimination charges based on race, age, disability and sex, including sexual harassment. The agency tries to mediate complaints it receives with the employer. If those efforts fail, it then conducts an investigation to determine whether a lawsuit should be filed by the alleged victim or the agency itself. The EEOC files a suit in less than 8 percent of the cases where it believes discrimination occurred and mediation didn’t work.

While the EEOC declined to comment on the latest filings, the agency in 2012 resolved a lawsuit it brought against a McDonald’s restaurant after the franchisee agreed to pay $1 million to settle sexual harassment claims. According to the EEOC’s complaint, male employees at the Reedsburg, Wisconsin, location subjected female workers to unwanted kissing and touching of their private parts. The franchisee failed to correct the situation, the agency said a July 2012 statement announcing the settlement.

The number of sexual harassment charges filed with the EEOC and state and local Fair Employment Practices agencies have declined since 2008, falling to 11,364 in fiscal year 2011 from a peak of 15,889 in 1997, according to the agency’s website.