Former McDonald’s Workers Win $1.5 Million in Class-Action Sexual Harassment Lawsuit
Nearly 100 women eligible for compensation due to abuse by a single manager at Mason, Mich. restaurant
MASON, Mich. – Former workers at a McDonald’s restaurant in Mason, Michigan who are part of a class-action lawsuit alleging rampant 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 submitted for court approval today.
The suit was originally filed in November 2019 by former McDonald’s worker Jenna Ries. In December 2021, a federal judge ruled the lawsuit could continue on behalf of a class of approximately 100 other women and teenaged girls, based on evidence showing the “consistency, frequency, severity, and visibility” of the harassment they experienced at the hands of a single 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, who worked at the Mason McDonald’s for three years, alleged that a manager frequently propositioned her for sex on the job, called her epithets including “bitch,” “cunt,” “slut,” and “whore” in front of other workers and the store’s general manager, and that he frequently grabbed her breasts, buttocks, and crotch. Three former employees later joined Ries in bringing the case, and nearly 20 other women submitted sworn statements in support of the lawsuit – all attesting to 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.
Although the case originally was filed against McDonald’s as well as its Mason franchisee, the company sought to be let out of the case, claiming that because it did not directly employ the harasser or the women he targeted, it was not responsible for the abuse. Late last year, the court agreed, and dismissed the corporate entity. That left the franchisee as the only defendant in the case. It 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.”
Ninety-five percent of McDonald’s 14,000 U.S. restaurants are franchisees. But the company historically has not required franchisees to take steps to prevent or remedy harassment, and routinely 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 so-called “Global Brand Standards” against harassment. As reported earlier this year by The Nation, however, the company does not appear to have taken substantive steps to implement that new mandate.
“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 (sometimes 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.
Every month, you'll receive regular roundups of the most important civil rights and civil liberties developments. Remember: a well-informed citizenry is the best defense against tyranny.
The latest in Women's Rights
The American Civil Liberties Union is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States of America.
Learn More About Women's Rights
Today, gender bias continues to create huge barriers for many women. Ongoing struggles include ensuring equal economic opportunities, educational equity, and an end to gender-based violence.