The #MeToo movement is now affecting the largest fast-food chain in the world.
On Tuesday, 10 employees in nine cities—including Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, St. Louis and New Orleans—filed sexual misconduct complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The filings come just before McDonald’s annual meeting, which is set for Thursday.
Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund, which formed under the National Women’s Law Center as the #MeToo movement rose to prominence, is covering the workers’ legal fees.
The claimants, including a 15-year-old from St. Louis, said in a conference call with journalists that they were ignored, mocked or terminated for reporting the behavior. The accusations included claims that co-workers or supervisors sexually propositioned, groped or exposed themselves to the women.
“I felt I had no choice but to tolerate it,” Kimberley Lawson, 25, who makes $8.75 per hour at a McDonald’s in Kansas City, Missouri, said on a conference call with reporters.
The lawsuits are among the first to arise following the creation of the defense fund in late 2017…
“Sexual harassment takes a devastating toll on the women who endure it,” Sharyn Tejani, director of the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund, said on a call with reporters Tuesday.
The fund has partnered with Fight for $15, a group that hand-delivered a letter to McDonald’s headquarters on Monday, accompanied by more than 100 of the company’s employees who joined to protest wages and working conditions.
The group, which has long called on the company to set a $15 minimum wage, said in the statement that it plans to “challenge widespread sexual harassment faced by McDonald’s workers on the job across the country — including groping, propositions for sex and lewd comments by supervisors — that is all too often ignored by management.”
Fight for $15 also said in its letter:
When widespread sexual harassment of workers of color in your stores came to light, rather than taking steps to address the problem, McDonald’s denied responsibility for it.
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The group has been retweeting news stories along with details of sexual harassment allegations:
“One worker — a 15-year-old — says she complained about a co-worker’s repeated use of graphic sexual language, but managers did nothing to stop it.” https://t.co/FGhiiIcMQT #FightFor15 #MeToo #MeTooMcDonalds
— Fight For 15 (@fightfor15) May 23, 2018
On Tuesday, McDonald’s responded to the allegations in a statement to reporters:
We are and have been committed to a culture that fosters the respectful treatment of everyone. There is no place for harassment and discrimination of any kind in our workplace. McDonald’s Corporation takes allegations of sexual harassment very seriously and are confident our independent franchisees who own and operate approximately 90 percent of our 14,000 U.S. restaurants will do the same.
McDonald’s might be looking at additional allegations in the upcoming weeks.
“Fight for $15 has set up a hotline for McDonald’s employees who want to have their allegations reviewed by lawyers,” CNN Money reported.
The allegations also might deteriorate consumers’ trust, as the fast-food maker has faced sexual harassment claims in the past.
In 2016, McDonald’s promised a review after similar allegations of harassment were brought.
However, a spokesperson for the firm declined to say whether that review led to any changes of policies aimed at tackling such harassment, according to the AP News agency.
Communicators throughout the food and beverage industry, especially those working for fast-food organizations, should take notice of McDonald’s responses to the allegations and watch for potential crises. Additional complaints could arise.
The restaurant industry, which employs half of American women at some point in their lives, has one of the country’s largest sexual harassment problems because its low-wage and largely female workforce is vulnerable to mistreatment from customers and colleagues.
“The fast food industry has an atrocious record on sexual harassment in the workplace,” Tejani said. “No worker at any job ever should have to endure abuse for a paycheck.”
How would you advise McDonald’s crisis team to respond to this situation?