McDonald’s is facing claims that it has failed to do enough to prevent sexual harassment in the latest in a series of lawsuits filed against the fast food company.
The proposed class action suit, filed in a court in Michigan, alleges there is a systemic problem at McDonald’s and that the company’s anti-harassment procedures amount to “lip service”.
It claims McDonald’s has “a toxic work culture from the very top” and cites the recent firing of Steve Easterbrook, the company’s chief executive, after he engaged in a relationship with a colleague.
Mr Easterbrook has not been accused of harassment. His relationship with the colleague, while a violation of company policy, was consensual. He described the relationship as “a mistake”.
Employees have filed more than 50 sexual harassment complaints in a range of jurisdictions against McDonald’s and its franchisees over a period of about three years, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. Some have claimed the company has retaliated against them for making internal complaints, including having hours reduced or being forced out their jobs.
In the latest complaint, Jenna Ries, a 32-year-old who worked in a franchised McDonald’s outlet in Michigan, alleges a superior frequently abused her verbally and physically. She claims the individual groped and assaulted her and made sexually-charged comments, and that the treatment left her physically sick.
The suit, filed on behalf of Ms Ries by the ACLU, claims several other woman in the same outlet were also victims of similar treatment and that this was emblematic of a wider problem at the company. It seeks at least $100,000 in damages per person affected.
The lawsuit maintains that the general manager at the Michigan store had told workers who complained about the harassment that they were “being dramatic” and that the harasser was “only joking”. It also says workers were not provided with information about how to report sexual harassment.
In a statement the company said it was “demonstrating its continued commitment to this issue” by recently strengthening anti-harassment training.
In McDonald’s policy against discrimination, harassment and retaliation, the company states it does not tolerate sexual harassment.
Behaviour covered by the policy ranges from unwelcome flirtation and making comments about a person’s body to more serious physical misconduct. It also disallows any type of retaliation against those who make complaints.
The company encourages workers to report concerns about possible violations and has a hotline for assistance. “All employees must treat each other with respect and take steps to ensure the work environment is free from harassment,” the policy says.