- McDonald’s is managing three new sexual harassment lawsuits that include allegations of sexual assault and quid-pro-quo harassment. The suits were filed in Kansas City, St. Louis and Los Angeles, according to an email sent to Restaurant Dive.
- The suits include claims the workers were ignored, mocked and retaliated against when they complained about being harassed.
- These cases come on the heels of a $500 million sexual harassment lawsuit filed in April, as well as a class-action lawsuit filed in November 2019 alleging sexual harassment and a hostile work environment. Prior to that November suit, more than 50 complaints were brought against the company, while McDonald’s was one of only 15 American companies to be sued by the federal government multiple times for sexual harassment between 1998 and 2014.
McDonald’s extensive sexual harassment complaints continue despite efforts to change their workplace culture. In addition to several lawsuits, the issues also caught the eye of U.S. lawmakers. In September 2019, 115 government officials across 31 U.S. states wrote a letter to then-CEO Steve Easterbrook asking the company to better protect its workers.
Less than two months later, however, Easterbrook was fired for violating corporate policy by having a consensual relationship with an employee. His successor, CEO Chris Kempczinski, has made it clear that such behavior won’t be tolerated, and even brought a lawsuit against Eastbrook, but it’s clear much work remains.
The company's issues aren't relegated to just the U.S. In May, an international coalition of unions representing tens of millions of workers filed a complaint with the government of the Netherlands alleging systemic sexual harassment at McDonald’s restaurants around the world. The complaint includes details of the company’s failure to address rampant sexual harassment at its restaurants in the U.S., as well as the UK, France, Colombia, Australia, Brazil, Chile and more.
Still, McDonald’s is certainly not the only restaurant company navigating sexual harassment issues. Sexual harassment is pervasive in the restaurant industry. According to the Harvard Business Review, more claims in the U.S. are filed in the restaurant industry than any other industry, and as many as 90% of women and 70% of men have reported some form of sexual harassment while working at a restaurant. Further, a new study from One Fair Wage finds that restaurant workers are experiencing increased sexual harassment incidents amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The issue affects the entire industry, from celebrity chefs like Mario Batali and John Besh, to chains, including McDonald’s, Del Taco, IHOP and Chipotle. McDonald’s may have the hardest time righting the ship on this issue, however, as both the largest restaurant chain in the country by footprint — with 14,000 U.S. locations — and as a mostly franchised company.
The company has made a number of moves to correct itself on this issue, including implementing Safe and Respectful Workplace Training in 100% of McDonald's corporate-owned restaurants. However, more than 90% of the fast food giant's system is franchised and franchisees are not mandated to take the training.
McDonald’s has also started working with anti-sexual violence organization RAINN, enhanced its policy that communicates employee rights, improved its procedures on how to file and address complaints and launched an anonymous sexual harassment hotline. The latter two changes seem to be somewhat ineffective in these latest accusations, however. One of the three women who filed a lawsuit told Business Insider that she called multiple numbers to report her harassment, adding that the company was “impossible to reach.”
Continuous and interactive training for employees at both corporate and franchised restaurants is critical, but so too is a formal complaint process with prompt responses and investigations. The alternative is a culture of negative morale and productivity, recruitment and retention issues and major lawsuits that add up.
However, these lingering issues don’t seem to be affecting McDonald’s sales, or its reputation. In July, MBLM analyzed consumer sentiment about major brands and found that McDonald’s is No. 3 in the fast food segment, behind just Starbucks and Chick-fil-A. The company’s fourth quarter yielded its highest same-store sales growth in 10 years.