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Mason McDonald’s workers win $1.5M in class-action sexual harassment lawsuit

“No one should have to put up with sexual harassment to get a paycheck.”
Mason McDonald’s workers win $1.5M in class-action sexual harassment lawsuit
Published: Apr. 4, 2022 at 11:24 AM EDT|Updated: Apr. 4, 2022 at 5:20 PM EDT
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MASON, Mich. (WILX) - Former workers of a McDonald’s restaurant in Mason, who are part of a class-action lawsuit alleging a culture of sexual harassment, will be eligible to claim awards averaging $10,000, depending on the extent of the harassment they suffered, under the terms of a proposed settlement sent for court approval Monday.

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The suit was originally filed in November 2019 by former McDonald’s employee Jenna Ries. In December 2021, a federal judge ruled the lawsuit could proceed on behalf of a class of nearly 100 other women and teenage girls. The judge’s decision was based on evidence showing the “consistency, frequency, severity, and visibility” of the harassment they experienced at the hands of one store manager.

“No one should have to put up with sexual harassment to get a paycheck,” said Ries. “I filed this lawsuit because I didn’t want other women to go through what I did while working at McDonald’s. I hope those who were abused will get the compensation they deserve, but I also hope McDonald’s will listen to survivors, and do everything possible to prevent sexual harassment in its restaurants.”

Ries worked at the Mason McDonald’s for three years and alleged that a manager frequently propositioned her for sex while on the job, used degrading, offensive terms to describe her in front of other workers and the store’s general manager and that he frequently grabbed her in private areas of her body.

Later, three former employees joined Ries in bringing the case, with nearly 20 other women submitting sworn statements in support of the lawsuit. All confirmed similar conduct they experienced at the hands of the same manager.

“While this settlement is a win for dozens of Mason McDonald’s workers who claimed egregious harassment, it, unfortunately, doesn’t go as far as we would have hoped, because McDonald’s corporate wasn’t at the table,” said Gillian Thomas, senior staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union Women’s Rights Project.

While the case originally was filed against McDonald’s as well as its Mason franchisee, the company was looking to be let out of the case, claiming that since it did not directly employ the harasser or the women which he targeted, it was not responsible for the abuse.

In late 2021, the court agreed with the company, and dismissed the corporate entity, leaving the franchisee as the only defendant in the case. It alone is paying the $1.5 million settlement.

“If McDonald’s accepted responsibility for the well-being of the nearly one million people who work under the Golden Arches, it would protect countless workers from harassment and violence,” explained Darcie Brault, Michigan-based counsel for the Mason Plaintiffs. “It is unconscionable that McDonald’s continues to say ‘not it’ when it comes to sexual harassment of workers at its franchise locations.”

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Of McDonald’s 14,000 restaurants nationwide, 95% are franchisees. However, the company traditionally has not required franchisees to take steps to prevent or remedy harassment, and regularly fights franchise workers’ efforts to hold the company responsible in court.

In April 2021, the company claimed that it would start requiring franchisees to meet “Global Brand Standards” against harassment.

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“We brought this suit because we want real change, and to stamp out sexual harassment for everyone who wears the McDonald’s uniform. I’m sorry that that’s not going to happen today,” said Emily Anibal, who was only 16 when she worked at the Mason McDonald’s. “It feels good to get some relief for the nightmare we endured, but we’re not going to be quiet. We’re going to keep fighting on behalf of McDonald’s workers everywhere.”

Since at least 2016, McDonald’s workers have filed more than 100 complaints and lawsuits alleging workplace sexual harassment, such as groping, propositions for sex (at times in exchange for hours), and rape.

The Michigan class-action suit was initially filed by Ries and the ACLU Women’s Rights Project and co-counsel with support from the TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund.

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The National Sexual Assault Hotline offers anonymous assistance and support without judgement. It can be reached 24/7 at 800-656-4673.

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