Lawsuit alleges racial, sexual discrimination at 3 McDonald’s in Virginia
Ten former McDonald’s workers are suing the company and one of its franchisees, alleging racial and sexual discrimination and harassment in a suit that links the restaurant giant to employee issues at three franchised restaurants in Virginia.
The lawsuit, filed Thursday in U.S. District Court for the western district of Virginia, includes claims that supervisors at the restaurants made statements such as “there are too many black people in the store” and used racial and ethnic slurs.
The lawsuit includes four defendants: McDonald’s Corp., McDonald’s USA LLC, franchise Soweva Co. and the franchise’s owner, Michael Simon.
According to the lawsuit, about 15 black workers were terminated May 12, including nine of the plaintiffs.
“When they asked why they were being terminated, Soweva’s owner told them that they were good workers, but they ‘didn’t fit the profile’ of his organization,” the lawsuit says.
When some of the workers complained to McDonald’s corporate offices, the company did not take action, the suit said.
The other plaintiff, a Hispanic woman, was “constructively discharged” on July 5, according to the suit.
McDonald’s said it had not yet seen the lawsuit and could not comment on its allegations, but would review the matter carefully. Attempts to reach Simon were unsuccessful.
The Fight for $15, a labor-backed group that has pressed McDonald’s and other fast-food chains for higher wages for workers, said Thursday that it and the NAACP are providing ongoing support to the plaintiffs.
The lawsuit comes a month after the National Labor Relations Board — in an unrelated matter — determined McDonald’s and it franchisees could be considered jointly responsible for employment issues. The labor board’s determination upended long-standing contentions by franchisers such as McDonald’s that franchisees are independent owner-operators who set their own policies and wages, while adhering to corporate standards on food preparation and restaurant design.
The lawsuit appears to be the first filed against McDonald’s and one of its franchisees since the NLRB’s complaints were issued. Several pages of the document discuss ways in which the plaintiffs assert McDonald’s controls certain processes at its franchised restaurants.
According to the lawsuit, a manager, who is not named as a defendant, engaged in “inappropriate comments” and touching. He also “offered female employees better working conditions in exchange for sexual favors,” according to the suit.
Another manager, also not named as a defendant, allegedly “told a gay employee that he could be a shift manager if he would ‘tone his gayness down.’”
While McDonald’s had no comment on the lawsuit, it said it has “a long-standing history of embracing the diversity of employees,” customers and others, and that discrimination “is completely inconsistent” with the company’s values.
“McDonald’s and our independent owner-operators share a commitment to the well-being and fair treatment of all people who work in McDonald’s restaurants,” the company said.
The NAACP said workers from the stores involved in the lawsuit reached out in 2014 to report the alleged harassment and discrimination. The NAACP then contacted the Fight for $15 movement for assistance.
The Fight for $15 also said it is launching a toll-free hotline, 855-729-2869, for fast-food workers to report workplace abuse and harassment. The Fight for $15 plans to offer referrals, counseling or other assistance to workers who call.
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