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McDonald's workers file sexual harassment claims

McDonald's workers file sexual harassment claims
Ten workers, including a 15-year-old, have lodged sexual harassment complaints against McDonald's. (Joe Raedle / Getty Images)

Energized by the #MeToo movement, two national advocacy groups are teaming up to lodge sexual harassment complaints against McDonald's on behalf of 10 women who have worked at the fast food restaurant chain in nine cities.

The workers — one of them a 15-year-old from St. Louis, and at least one of them in Los Angeles — alleged groping, propositions for sex, indecent exposure and lewd comments by supervisors. According to their complaints, when the women reported the harassment, they were ignored or mocked, and in some cases suffered retaliation.

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The legal effort was organized by Fight for $15, which campaigns to raise pay for low-wage workers. The legal costs are being covered by the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund, which was launched in January by the National Women's Law Center to provide attorneys for women who cannot afford to bring cases on their own.

The complaints, filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, were announced Tuesday, two days before the company's annual shareholder meeting in Oak Brook, Ill.

Responding to the claims, McDonald's spokeswoman Terri Hickey said there is "no place for harassment and discrimination of any kind" 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% of our 14,000 U.S. restaurants will do the same," Hickey said by email.

Fight for $15 said the restaurants named in the complaints are run by franchisees, not directly by McDonald's. But the complaints name both McDonald's Corp. and the franchisee — part of Fight for $15's effort to hold the company responsible for wage and employment issues at franchised locations. The company argues its franchisees are independent business owners, and that stance has complicated efforts to unionize workers across the entire McDonald's chain.

When similar sexual harassment charges were lodged by Fight for $15 workers two years ago, McDonald's promised a review of those allegations. However, Hickey — in her new response — declined to say whether that review led to any changes of policies and practices aimed at curtailing such harassment.

Among the new complainants is Tanya Harrell, 22, of New Orleans, who alleges that her two managers teased her but otherwise took no action after she told them of sustained verbal and physical harassment by a co-worker.

Harrell, who makes $8.15 an hour, says going public with her complaint may be emotionally taxing, but she is proud of her decision.

"I feel like I have a voice now," she said in a telephone interview. "It gives me a bit of motivation and a bit of courage."

In addition to Los Angeles, New Orleans and St. Louis, charges were filed by workers in Chicago; Detroit; Miami; Orlando, Fla.; Durham, N.C.; and Kansas City, Mo.

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