An offer of $1000 for oral sex, groping on the job, and a manager showing an employee a dick pic in the workplace. These are details from 15 charges that front-line McDonald’s staff have filed with federal authorities against the fast food giant, alleging a widespread pattern of sexual harassment in its restaurants across the country.
The complaints are another step in efforts by the Fight for 15 fast-food worker movement to hold the country’s second-largest private employer responsible for working conditions at its franchised restaurants.
In a case currently before the National Labor Relations Board, workers backed by the 2-million member Service Employees International Union are arguing that the McDonald’s corporation can be held responsible for workplace conditions and violations of labor law in stores. In 2014, workers in three states filed class-action lawsuits alleging widespread wage theft, and in 2015, workers filed more than two-dozen complaints with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, alleging unsafe working conditions.
Now, with the sexual harassment charges, the same argument will be brought before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission — focusing on the company’s responsibility for sexual harassment in stores.
If the EEOC and other agencies rule that McDonald’s is jointly responsible, with franchise owners, for labor law violations, workers and the union will have won an important strategic victory. Such a ruling would make it possible for McDonald’s cooks and cashiers to unionize nationally and bargain a company-wide contract with McDonald’s corporate, which has washed its hands of such negotiations by insisting that individual franchisees are solely responsible for labor issues.
The burger chain has a “zero tolerance” policy on sexual harassment, but workers allege that managers at stores across the country have touched them inappropriately, shown them lewd pictures, and offered cash for sexual favors, all without consequences. In some cases, employees say they experienced retaliation at work for reporting the behavior.
"There is no place for harassment and discrimination of any kind in McDonald’s restaurants or in any workplace," McDonald's said in a statement to ThinkProgress regarding the complaints. "We take any concerns seriously and are reviewing the allegations." McDonald’s did not immediately respond to BuzzFeed News’ request for comment.
By filing complaints at both corporate-run and franchised McDonald’s stores, the workers are demanding that McDonald’s headquarters enforce the company’s stated policy.
Of the fifteen women who filed complaints against McDonalds, two spoke about their experiences in a press call Wednesday.
Cycei Monae, who worked as a cook at a McDonald’s in Flint, Michigan for $8.50 an hour, said her supervisor harassed her first verbally, then physically. Though she complained to her store manager, no action was taken against her supervisor and she eventually felt she had to quit.
Monae said she looked up to her supervisor "for guidance as any new employee would,” but "he was a predator. … He would grab me from behind, and as he passed he would say things he wanted to do to me in my ear.”
When he came up behind Monae one day and showed her a picture of his genitals on his cell phone, she says she complained to the Flint McDonald’s general manager, but again nothing happened. When the harassment continued, she took her complaints to McDonald’s headquarters, to no avail.
“The daily harassment took a toll on me. I honestly felt sick every day,” she said. “I knew what was happening was wrong, but I needed the money.” Eventually the stress became too much and she quit.
Kristi Maisenbach, 20, said she had a similar experience at her McDonald’s branch in Folsom, California. When she first arrived her boss would continuously flirt with her in a way that made her uncomfortable, she said. The flirting eventually turned into unwanted physical contact and a solicitation.
“Whenever he walked past me he would rub his genitals against my butt and at one point he grabbed my breasts,” Maisenbach told press Wednesday. She wanted to quit but needed money for nursing school and to care for her boyfriend’s two-year-old daughter, she said.
When her boss texted her offering her $1,000 to perform oral sex on him, she showed it to her store manager. “I didn’t even want him to be fired, I just didn’t want to be scheduled with him anymore,” she said.
The manager had her fill out a complaint form, she said, but when she arrived at work the next day, the employee was still there. He called her a bitch, Maisenbach said. Instead of punishing him, the store manager cut her hours. Eventually, Maisenbach too quit.
A survey of more than 1,200 female fast food workers, conducted by Hart Research Associates, found that around 40% of the women surveyed experienced “unwanted sexual behavior” on the job. Black and Latina women are disproportionately affected, the study found, while white female fast food workers reported much lower rates of unwanted sexual contact.
“McDonald’s has zero tolerance for any form of sexual harassment of any employee,” the company’s employee manual reads. “Sexual harassment is prohibited because it may be intimidating, an abuse of power, and is inconsistent with McDonald’s policies, practices and management philosophy.”
Cora Lewis is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
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Ema O'Connor is a politics reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC.
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