McDonald's is certainly no stranger to lawsuits. Usually, the claims involve personal injury of some type. Who can forget the million dollar cup of hot coffee? But recently, McDonald's found itself in court for another reason. According to ten (10) former employees, the fast food giant subjected them to "rampant racial and sexual harassment." Some predict this lawsuit will result in a significant award.
Allegations of race and sex discrimination
The federal lawsuit, filed in Virginia, asserts that McDonald's high-ranking managers and supervisors were demeaning the workers, claiming that there were "too many black people in the store." Of the ten (10) employees who filed suit, nine (9) are African American and one is Hispanic. Seven (7) of the ten (10) are women. Supervisors are accused of calling the employees very derogatory names, such as "ghetto," "bitch" and "dirty Mexican." Female employees were inappropriately touched, on their buttocks and legs, and sent sexually explicit photos. Some were solicited sexual favors. Not only were the employees being harassed, but they allege they were also subjected to harsher discipline than non-minorities who committed the same rule violations.
The plan to create a white workforce
It was also asserted that there was a plan to reduce the number of black employees, "with an aim of increasing the white workforce." More specifically, the franchisee was heard saying she planned to "get rid of the niggers and the Mexicans." After employees reported these statements, they were terminated, supposedly because they did not "fit the profile" the franchisee wanted.
While the employees made complaints to McDonald's Corporate, they were not given proper response or an investigation in their case. One plaintiff who was not fired eventually quit because of the hostile work environment.
How is discrimination defined?
There are federal anti-discrimination laws, namely Title VII, which forbid employers from discriminating against their employees because of their race, gender, or sex. Discrimination can come in the form of hiring, firing, pay raises, job assignments, promotions, layoffs or reductions in force, training, fringe benefits, and any other term or condition of employment, because of someone's race or gender.
Title VII also makes it unlawful to harass someone because of their race, gender or sex. Harassment, as seen in the McDonald's case, includes offensive or derogatory comments regarding race or sex. The harassment cannot be merely a few isolated comments. But if the harassment leads to an adverse employment action, such as termination or discipline, then it may be actionable.
Can McDonald's be held liable for the actions of a franchise?
It is expected that McDonald's Corporation will challenge the lawsuit because the actions were committed by a franchisee. Indeed, this is a complex area of the law, and it is not uncommon for corporations to escape liability on this basis. However, because McDonald's typically maintains control of nearly every aspect of the operation of a franchisee, it may not be that clear cut.
If you feel you have been the victim of discrimination, or if you have any questions regarding your employment rights, please contact Wrady & Michel, LLC, either online or by calling us at (205) 265-1880.