Two McDonald’s employees in Florida are suing the fast-food chain for $500 million, with allegations based on a “systemic sexual harassment problem.”
The suit was filed by 24-year-old Jamelia Fairley and 28-year-old former employee Ashley Reddick. The plaintiffs filed charges with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in May 2019, and recently received “right-to-sue” letters. Fairley and Reddick chose to file the lawsuit during the COVID-19 pandemic to abide by the statute of limitations.
The class action lawsuit was filed on behalf of about 5,000 women who have worked at corporate stores in Florida since April 2016. There are more than 100 company-owned McDonald’s in Florida, which is the most of any state.
The lawsuit alleges that McDonald’s doesn’t follow up on the success of sexual harassment training, that it does nothing to train managers on how to respond, and that it does nothing to handle harassers.
The court filing claims McDonald’s “maintained a work environment pervaded with sexually explicit language and sexually harassing behavior” that was reported to leadership. Fairley accused one coworker of making sexual jokes and constantly touching her even though she told him to stop. She claimed another coworker made a sexually suggestive comment referencing her daughter. That person was fired after she reported the exchange.
Fairley claimed that her hours were reduced from 25 hours per week to seven to eight hours per week in retaliation.
Reddick believed she was fired for reporting sexual harassment. She recalled specific interactions with a coworker who made sexually explicit comments and continued to grope her. Reddick said she told her manager, but she doesn’t believe the situation was addressed. The former employee also claimed she received verbal abuse from customers, but the manager did nothing to rectify the issue.
“Jamelia and I are filing this lawsuit on behalf of McDonald’s workers across Florida because the company needs to step up and protect us,” Reddick said in a statement. “We’re not the only ones who have been sexually harassed while on the job at McDonald’s—in our store, in Florida, and across the country. This is a nationwide problem, the company has known about it for years and we won’t stop speaking out until McDonald’s listens to us.”
In response, McDonald’s said it has always been committed to ensuring that its employees are able to work in an environment that is free from all forms of discrimination and harassment.
The company also pointed to its policy on discrimination, harassment, and retaliation prevention that was enhanced in January 2019 and the free intake hotline it formed in June 2019 to allow workers to alert the company of any employment concerns.
“McDonald’s is demonstrating its continued commitment to this issue through the implementation of Safe and Respectful Workplace Training in 100 percent of our corporate-owned restaurants and encourages our franchisees to do the same,” McDonald’s USA said in a statement to QSR. “The plaintiffs’ allegations of harassment and retaliation were investigated as soon as they were brought to our attention, and we will likewise investigate the new allegations that they have raised in their complaint.”
Along with the $500 million in damages, the suit demands that McDonald’s implement effective anti-harassment policies and better training for upper-level management.
The allegations come five months after a former employee in Michigan filed a $5 million lawsuit accusing a supervisor of touching her inappropriately and calling her offensive names. The plaintiff, Jenna Ries, claimed the manager threatened to fire her for rejecting his sexual advances.
In recent months, CEO Chris Kempczinski has attempted to install a culture change within the company after former leader Steve Easterbrook was ousted in November when he revealed a consensual relationship with an employee. There were also reports of parties and late-night socialization among executives and employees under Easterbrook.