UPDATE: July 21, 2021: A U.S. district judge has denied McDonald's motions to dismiss the $500 million class-action lawsuit alleging "severe or pervasive sexual harassment" of female employees.
The judge has also denied McDonald's motion to strike the suit's class allegations. The fast food giant claimed that the plaintiffs' class action was too broad and that their allegations from one restaurant couldn't stretch to complaints of systemwide culture issues. But Judge Franklin U. Valderrama said "at this stage, the court cannot find that plaintiffs' allegations of sex discrimination are so individualized that they 'could not possibly present common questions of law or fact sufficient to justify class action treatment.'"
- McDonald's Corp., McDonald's USA, LLC and McDonald's Restaurants of Florida, Inc. are facing a class action lawsuit alleging "severe or pervasive sexual harassment" of female employees. Plaintiffs Jamelia Fairley and Ashley Reddick filed a lawsuit April 10 at a federal court in Chicago seeking at least $500 million in compensatory damages on behalf of themselves and thousands of female workers at roughly 100 McDonald's corporate-owned restaurants in Florida (Fairley v. McDonald's Corp., No. 20-cv-02273 (N.D. Ill. April 10, 2020)). The women claimed the companies were in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Florida Civil Rights Act.
- Fairley, a current employee at a McDonald's restaurant in Sanford, Florida, alleged she was sexually harassed and groped by a male coworker beginning in 2018. He once grabbed her "by the waist and pulled her back into his groin area," the lawsuit states. She claimed her hours were "drastically reduced" as a result of reporting the harassment to management. Reddick claimed she was terminated in 2018 in retaliation for reporting sexual harassment. She was subjected to frequent physical assaults by a male coworker, the lawsuit stated. Despite having "knowledge of the sexual harassment and hostile work environment to which plaintiffs and class members have been subjected, McDonald's failed to take immediate and appropriate corrective action to stop it," according to the lawsuit.
- McDonald's told HR Dive in an emailed statement: "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." The company said it has "always been committed to ensuring that our employees are able to work in an environment that is free from all forms of discrimination and harassment." Safe and Respectful Workplace Training has been implemented in 100% of McDonald's corporate-owned restaurants, and franchisees are encouraged to do the same, the company said.
The work environment at McDonald's has been under scrutiny since at least 2016, when 15 workers filed sexual harassment complaints with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
In addition to the recent complaint filed in Chicago, McDonald's faces another class action lawsuit filed in November 2019 by employees at a Lansing, Michigan, restaurant. The workers claimed they endured sexual harassment and a hostile work environment, which included verbal harassment and "groping and physical assaults." The plaintiffs alleged McDonald's failed to "recognize, penalize and prevent" sexual harassment.
Also in November, McDonald's board members voted to fire CEO Steve Easterbrook after a consensual relationship with an employee, which is a violation of corporate policy. David Fairhurst left his position as chief people officer days after Easterbrook was terminated. He was promoted to the position in 2015 by Easterbrook. McDonald's did not provide a reason for Fairhurst's departure.
The current CEO, Chris Kempczinksi, announced in March that Heidi B. Capozzi will join his leadership team as executive vice president and global chief people officer. "Finding the right chief people officer has been a top priority of mine," Kempczinksi said in a statement.
The April lawsuit filed against McDonald's comments on the ongoing history of sexual harassment its workers face. "McDonald's workers nationwide — and women in particular — have for years been telling their stories of routine, severe sexual harassment and abuse," the lawsuit states. "Among them are teenagers, to whom the company promises ‘America's best first job' and instead delivers predation."
Fairley alleged that despite complaints to shift supervisors, a general manager, and a videotape of the sexual harassment incidents, her male coworker wasn't reprimanded after he submitted a statement denying the allegations. Fairley and Reddick filed charges with the EEOC in May 2019. The case was dismissed by the commission in January, but the women were informed they had the right to sue.
McDonald's told HR Dive in an email that it has taken several steps in recent months and years to reaffirm its commitment to a sexual harassment-free work environment such as a January 2019 enhanced policy on discrimination, harassment and retaliation prevention; creating a free intake hotline to call with any employment concerns that franchisees may offer to their employees to supplement what they provide in their organizations; and a commitment to annual policy and training reviews informed by feedback from stakeholders, employees and franchisees.