McDonald's slapped with lawsuit after being accused of 'sexually harassing' workers

McDonald's slapped with lawsuit after being accused of 'sexually harassing' workers

Back in the tail end of 2017, Harvey Weinstein was accused by several people, including actresses Ashley Judd and Rose McGowan, of sexual assault. A few days later, Weinstein was fired by the board of the Weinstein Company, and soon, several other high-profile men in show business, like Kevin Spacey and actor Louis CK, followed suit in having their misconduct exposed.

Starting in earnest on that day in October, #MeToo movement is still causing shockwaves today; Morgan Freeman is the latest actor to be called out on his behavior, and it's unlikely he'll be the last.

It wasn't long before similar accusations rocked the food industry, too; Mario Batali is the highest-profile case, with his television show The Chew having been canceled, and a NYPD criminal investigation being opened against him relating an incident that occurred in 2004 at his New York restaurant the Spotted Pig.

Now, in the wake of a series of reports, the #MeToo movement has hit fast food in a big way.

According to the Associated Press, sexual harassment complaints were lodged by two national advocacy groups, on behalf of 10 McDonald's employees, located in eight cities across the United States. The complaints - all from women of color and one of them coming from a 15-year-old girl in St Louis - expose some of the terrifying things that can go on behind the McDonald's counter.

One of the women who have stepped forward is Tanya Harrel, who experienced harassment twice in a single month at a branch down in New Orleans, Louisiana.

First, Harrel was harassed by someone she had believed to be a platonic friend. He reportedly groped her in the back rooms while she was washing dishes, where there were no cameras to watch. “He actually came onto me very aggressively,” Harrel revealed in an interview with Eater. “He would grab my breasts and other private parts.”

Harrel tried to avoid the co-worker, but he kept pursuing, so she reported it to not one, but two supervisors - one male, and one female. While the male supervisor accused Harrel of giving the co-worker "sex appeal", the female supervisor didn't believe her either, pointing to the fact that Harrel and the co-worker had exchanged phone numbers.

"I got rejected twice," Harrel said, making her feel decidedly “unprotected and unsafe". "After that, I didn’t know who else to go to, who else to talk to about it.” Eventually, this coworker quit, but just a few days later, Harrel was the subject of harassment again, and this time, she didn't report it at all.

When it happened again - a male coworker cornered her in a bathroom, exposed his genitals and tried to force himself on her - Harrel took a few weeks off, terrified of going back to work. She's just one of 10 McDonald's employees to suffer similar horrors - which included groping, propositioning and even sexual assault - some say they suffered retaliation after reporting it, others lost their jobs.

“When sexual harassment is not addressed in the workplace,” Harrel said, “it sends workers a message that it’s okay for our bodies to be violated… It’s okay for our self-respect to be shattered.”

In the wake of the allegations, McDonald's have released a statement condemning sexual harassment in the 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,” said spokeswoman Terri Hickey via e-mail.

A 2016 survey by Hart Research Associates - conducted for three advocacy groups - calculated that as many 40 percent of female fast food workers experience unwanted sexual behavior on the job. Hopefully with these lawsuits, the #MeToo movement can make its mark on McDonald's, and the fast food industry as a whole.