McDonald’s is facing 25 new sexual harassment charges and lawsuits as its works to revamp its policies. The Fight for $15 and a Union, with support from the American Civil Liberties Union and the TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund, announced May 21 more than two dozen charges, which allege “a trail of illegal conduct in both corporate and franchise McDonald’s restaurants across 20 cities,” they said in a combined release.
The suits and U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission claims include allegations of groping, indecent exposure, and propositions for sex and lewd comments by supervisors—some against workers as young as 16 years old.
On May 20, McDonald’s responded with a letter to an inquiry from U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth over the fast-food chain’s handling of harassment complaints. Reviewed by Bloomberg, chief executive officer Steve Easterbrook said McDonald’s 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.”
“We have 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,” Easterbrook wrote, per Bloomberg.
McDonald’s also started working with anti-abuse organization RAINN in 2018, according to the letter, on how to prevent misconduct. Easterbrook said 90 percent of operators and general managers have taken the new training course. And it will offer training to other crew members on harassment, unconscious bias, and workplace safety.
Easterbrook said the moves are a “a clear message that we are committed to creating and sustaining a culture of trust where employees feel safe, valued and respected.”
McDonald’s could not immediately be reached for comment Tuesday.
Tanya Harrell, a McDonald’s worker who claims a coworker attempted to rape her in a bathroom stall, said in a statement “these new charges show that nothing has changed. We cannot wait any longer for action.”
“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,” she added.
The EEOC charges were filed by workers in Cincinnati; Chicago; Durham, North Carolina; East Haven, Connecticut; Gladwin, Michigan; Kansas City, Missouri; Los Angeles; Monterey Park, California; Myrtle Beach, South Carolina; Nebraska, Cortland, New York; Sacramento; Sanford, Florida; St. Louis; and Tucson, Arizona. Additionally, workers in Chickamauga, Georgia; Williamsburg, Michigan; and Davison, Michigan, filed civil lawsuits against McDonald’s and workers in Folsom, California, and Biscoe, North Carolina, who filed charges in 2016 progressed to filing lawsuits.
The workers and the organizations planned to announce the charges Tuesday in a protest outside McDonald’s downtown Chicago headquarters
The charges mark the third round of complaints workers in the Fight for $15 and a Union have filed against McDonald’s in the last three years, making it more than 50 charges and suits in total. And last September workers mounted a one-day strike intended to bring awareness to the alleged issues.
“The measures that McDonald’s claims to have implemented, or to have in the works, are better than nothing, but the company has yet to commit to meting out consequences for stores, whether corporate-owned or franchised, where harassment continues to flourish,” said Gillian Thomas, a senior staff attorney for the ACLU Women’s Rights Project, in a statement.
The ACLU provided legal support to many of the McDonald’s workers. The TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund offered support to investigate some of the 25 charges.
The employees are asking for a sit-down with McDonald’s to “end sexual harassment at the company’s restaurants once and for all,” the release said.
“Working Americans are getting organized,” said Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union, in a statement. “In many cases, working women are taking the lead to use our power in numbers to right the wrongs we’re sick and tired of dealing with in our workplaces. Giant corporations like McDonald’s have enormous power over our lives and it’s time for them to sit down with workers to create work environments where everyone can do their jobs safely and with dignity.”
Workers are also “demanding the company hold mandatory trainings for managers and employees and to create a safe and effective system for receiving and responding to complaints.”
TIME’S UP released an open letter to McDonald’s executives and board members Tuesday.