November 12, 2019

DETROIT — The American Civil Liberties Union and Michigan McDonald’s workers filed a class action lawsuit Tuesday seeking to force the company to address a “systemic problem” of sexual harassment in its restaurants across the country. 

The suit was filed against McDonald’s USA, McDonald’s Corp., and franchisee MLMLM Corp. in state court in Ingham County with support from the TIME'S UP Legal Defense Fund. It zeroes in on a McDonald’s restaurant near Lansing, Michigan and alleges a trail of illegal harassment that went ignored by management — including groping and physical assaults — is emblematic of a company that permits a toxic work culture from the very top.

“McDonald’s likes to say that it is powerless to stop sexual harassment from occurring in its franchise restaurants,” said Gillian Thomas, senior staff attorney at the ACLU Women’s Rights Project. “That would be laughable if it weren’t so destructive to the lives of tens of thousands of workers being left to fend for themselves. Today, we are taking McDonald’s to court to demand that it take responsibility and use its immense power to address the pervasive abuse happening under its ‘Golden Arches.’ Enough is enough.”

The named plaintiff in the suit, 32-year-old former McDonald’s worker Jenna Ries, has also filed a charge against McDonald’s with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The complaint alleges a swing manager frequently propositioned Ries for sex on the job, called her epithets in front of other workers and the general manager, and frequently grabbed her. In one alleged incident, the manager placed his penis in Ries’s hand when they were working next to each other in the kitchen. In another, he cornered Ries in the store’s walk-in freezer, pinning her against a wall. Ries responded to the manager’s harassment by begging him, “stop,” “no,” “leave me alone,” and “do not touch me,” but he only yelled at her and threatened to have her fired.

“I lived in constant fear of losing my job because I didn’t want to be treated like trash, and because I didn’t give in to my harasser’s disgusting behavior,” said Ries. "It drove me to tears, and ultimately left me no choice but to take action. I’m speaking out now to make sure what happened to me doesn’t happen to anyone else at McDonald’s."

A former Detroit McDonald’s worker filed a separate charge Tuesday with the EEOC, alleging a manager asked how she’d feel if he and another coworker “ran a train” on her, referring to sex with multiple partners. When she reported the incident, she was transferred to another store and her hours were cut, forcing her to quit.

“Despite superficial attempts by McDonald’s to address sexual harassment, today’s suit and EEOC complaint show the problem persists,” said Eve Cervantez, an attorney with Altshuler Berzon who represents many of the McDonald’s workers who have filed complaints in recent years. “McDonald’s is the leader of the country’s fast-food industry, yet these complaints show McDonald’s is among fast-food’s worst offenders when it comes to protecting the workers who make the company’s success possible. Employees should not have to endure violation of their humanity and bodily autonomy as the price of earning a paycheck.” 

Over the past three years, McDonald’s has largely ignored its frontline workers who have filed more than 50 complaints alleging illegal harassment in both corporate and franchise McDonald’s restaurants. Many of those who have spoken up about harassment have felt the brunt of retaliation, alleging reduced hours and unwarranted discipline to being fired or forced to leave their jobs.

“We’re demanding McDonald’s new CEO, Chris Kempczinski, sit down with worker-survivors and hear our stories,” said Jamelia Fairley, a leader in the Fight for $15 and a Union and a McDonald’s worker from Sanford, Florida, who filed a sexual harassment complaint against the company earlier this year. “McDonald’s needs to let survivors and our advocates drive the solution. Nothing is going to change for us, without us.” 

McDonald’s workers who have experienced harassment on the job can call the ACLU Women's Rights Project at (212) 549-2644 or complete a form online here: https://action.aclu.org/legal-intake/sexual-harassment-mcdonalds

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