LOS ANGELES – The American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Southern California Tuesday announced the filing of complaints with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on behalf of four McDonald’s workers who allege they were sexually harassed while working at the fast-food chain.
Allegations in the ACLU SoCal filings include sexual propositions, repeated exposure to sexually explicit comments, and retaliations for filing complaints. The complaints are the latest actions in a multi-year national effort by McDonald’s cooks and cashiers to press the company to address alleged harassment, according to the ACLU.
In a letter provided by McDonald’s, CEO Steve Easterbrook wrote to “Top Chef” host Padma Lakshmi, who supports the workers’ cause, that the company was training employees to deal with harassment, and starting a hotline for victims. He said the company was committed “to ensuring a harassment and bias-free workplace.”
Easterbrook wrote that McDonald’s has “enhanced our policy so that it more clearly informs employees of their rights, more clearly defines sexual harassment, discrimination and retaliation, and provides examples of what unacceptable behavior looks like.”
The ACLU released a statement quoting an employee of a McDonald’s store in Monterey Park, who said he was a victim of sexual harassment at work.
“The employees of McDonald’s are what make it the most profitable fast-food chain in the world, and we deserve a safe and respectful workplace,” cashier Emmanuel Flores said. “I suffered sexual harassment on a daily basis, and when I complained, my hours were cut.”
The complaints are part of a nationwide filing of sexual harassment EEOC charges and lawsuits against McDonald’s. The filings are supported by the Fight for $15 organization, the ACLU and the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund. The Southern California workers include employees in the Antelope Valley, Monterey Park and Los Angeles.
According to the ACLU, workers at McDonald’s are particularly vulnerable as they are mostly front line, non-managerial employees, who live at the economic margins, unable to risk losing a shift or a job by filing a complaint.
“McDonald’s restaurants in Los Angeles tolerated, and in some cases encouraged, a workplace replete with sexual harassment, and then retaliated against workers who spoke up,” ACLU SoCal senior staff attorney Minouche Kandel alleged. “McDonald’s should lead in preventing and responding to sexual harassment, not tolerate harassment and punish workers who come forward to say #MeToo.”
According to Easterbrook’s letter, McDonald’s started working with the anti-abuse organization RAINN last year on how to prevent misconduct. The executive said 90 percent of McDonald’s operators and general managers have completed the new training course, and training will be provided to other crew members on harassment, unconscious bias and workplace safety.