(Washington, D.C.) In the last several days, with the financial support of the TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund, women working in low-wage jobs at McDonald’s restaurants in nine cities across the country filed sexual harassment charges against the company with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The charges reveal a litany of sexually aggressive language and behaviors that McDonald’s managers routinely initiated or disregarded—even after workers reported it. In several instances, women reporting harassment faced retaliation, including being fired or given fewer work hours.
The TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund, one of a series of TIME’S UP initiatives to promote equality and safety in the workplace, is housed at and administered by the National Women’s Law Center Fund LLC. The Fund connects those who experience workplace sexual harassment or related retaliation with legal and communications assistance and provides funding for legal representation in select cases. Attorneys from the law firm of Altshuler Berzon LLP and Outten & Golden LLP filed the charges on behalf of the McDonald’s workers, and the TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund is providing financial support to help defray the costs of this representation.
The charges, involving incidents in Chicago, Detroit, Durham, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, Orlando, and St. Louis, include allegations from a 15-year-old cashier in St. Louis who says an older male employee said to her: “you have a nice body; have you ever had white chocolate inside you?” When she reported it to her manager, she said she was told “you will never win that battle,” and nothing was done to stop the harassment. A Chicago worker says she was asked by her manager if she wanted to see his penis and “how many penises she could take.” She said when she reported it, she was fired. When a New Orleans worker said she complained about a co-worker groping her, the manager said she should take it to the “next level” with him. When a second employee tried to sexually assault her in the restaurant’s bathroom, she explained that she did not report it because her first complaint was ignored. Several women described being afraid to report bad behavior because complaints often triggered more harassment and retaliation and they feared losing their jobs.
“Sexual harassment is pervasive across the fast food industry, where over a million workers—especially women of color—face abuse as a routine part of their job,” said Fatima Goss Graves, President and CEO of the National Women’s Law Center. “This sort of harassment puts working people in a no win situation—forced to choose between a paycheck and speaking up about the abuse. The TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund was created to enable those facing workplace harassment to reclaim their power. We are proud to fund legal assistance for these brave women who have come forward at great risk to call out their harassers and demand accountability from the world’s largest restaurant chain.”
In 2016, the workers’ advocacy organization Fight for $15 helped several McDonald’s workers file similar EEOC charges against McDonald’s. But since few attorneys were willing to take these cases on with no financial backing at the front end, most of those workers were not able to find legal representation and many were unable to pursue the charges. Facing little pressure, McDonald’s never responded with changes in how it prevents or responds to harassment. The Fight for $15 was instrumental in identifying the McDonald’s workers who filed their sexual harassment charges in recent days.
“By funding the legal representation in these cases, we hope to help ensure that these charges will be a catalyst for significant change,” said Sharyn Tejani, Director of the TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund. “Few women working in low-wage jobs have the means or the financial security to challenge sexual harassment. As shown by these charges and thousands of intakes we have received at the Fund from women in every industry, those who report their abuse are often fired, demoted, or mocked—and since nothing is done to stop the harassment, nothing changes. McDonald’s is perfectly positioned—if it chooses—to take the lead in an industry that’s rampant with abuse.”
The TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund began operating on January 1, 2018. Since then, 2,700 workers—mostly women—from more than 60 diverse industries, have been given the names of attorneys in their geographic area for initial legal consultations to address workplace harassment or related retaliation. Two-thirds of the intakes are from people who self-identify as low-income. More than 500 attorneys across the country have joined the TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund’s legal network so far. Support for the Fund continues to grow: more than 20,000 people have donated more than $21 million.
The National Women’s Law Center is a non-profit organization that has been working since 1972 to advance and protect women’s equality and opportunity. The Center focuses on major policy areas of importance to women and their families including economic security, education, employment and health, with special attention given to the concerns of low-income women. For more information on the Center, visit: www.nwlc.org.