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McDonald’s Workers Charge Grotesque Sexual Harassment in New $500 Million Lawsuit

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Two women who worked for McDonald’s in Florida, backed by the Fight For 15 and the Time’s Up legal fund, have filed a new class action lawsuit against the company, alleging a widespread pattern of sexual harassment at stores throughout the state. They are seeking $500 million in damages, and a fundamental change in the way McDonald’s handles sexual harassment at thousands of locations across America.

The suit is crafted to attack a legal shield that McDonald’s uses to insulate itself from labor violations. The company, like many in the fast food industry, has long held that it is not responsible for violations that take place in stores owned by franchisees—a powerful tool for protecting the corporation, since more than nine in ten McDonald’s are franchises. (The legal definition of this “joint employer” standard has been a key struggle for the Fight For 15, which saw a more labor-friendly definition during the Obama administration rolled back under President Trump.) Lawyers in this suit are targeting more than 100 McDonald’s stores in Florida directly owned by the parent company, seeking to force changes that could then spread to corporate and franchise-owned stores alike. The new lawsuit is an escalation of a campaign against sexual harassment at McDonald’s that the Fight For 15 has been waging since 2018, which has included dozens of complaints filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. 

On top of the half-billion dollars in damages, the suit asks for additional punitive damages, as well as “effective worker-centered anti-harassment policies and procedures and training” for both lower and upper-level McDonald’s managers.

The two plaintiffs in the suit, Jamelia Fairley and Ashley Reddick, both worked at a corporate-owned McDonald’s in Sanford, Florida. Both say they suffered sexual harassment from coworkers and employees alike over a period of several years, and that their complaints were ignored by managers. Fairley, speaking via videoconference, said that one coworker asked her “how much it would cost to have sex with my daughter,” when her daughter was one year old. She said that her hours were cut after she complained. “Try raising a toddler on a paycheck of $67 a week,” Fairley said, as her daughter could be heard crying in the background. 

Reddick, who was earning just over $10 an hour, says that a male coworker harassed her verbally, rubbed his groin against her, showed her a picture of his penis on his cell phone, and even followed her into the bathroom at the store while she was cleaning it, terrifying her. She says that managers retaliated against her when she complained. “Instead of helping me, they stopped scheduling me for shifts,” she said. “And then they fired me.” 

Gillian Thomas, an attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union who is working on the plaintiffs’ case, said that while the lawsuit’s formal scope extends only to corporate-owned stores in Florida, the hope is that it can have a broader effect on sexual harassment throughout the entire company. “McDonald’s has the power to change practices everywhere,” Thomas said. “Our position is it should be doing vastly more to ensure that the employees in those franchises that earn billions of dollars for the corporation” are protected. 

That position is of a piece with what the Fight For 15 has long maintained: McDonald’s, in reality, exercises tight control over all aspects of its franchises, from the food to the menu to the store appearance, so the argument that it is not responsible for labor violations because it does not control the operations of its franchisees is little more than a convenient legal fiction. 

In a statement, McDonald’s said that “The plaintiffs’ allegations of harassment and retaliation were investigated as soon as they were brought to our attention, and we will likewise investigate the new allegations that they have raised in their complaint.” The company also said it has implemented “Safe and Respectful Workplace Training in 100% of our corporate-owned restaurants and encourages our franchisees to do the same.” (The fact that the company purports to be unable to impose training requirements on its franchised stores points to the very “joint employer” problem that the Fight For 15 is up against.) 

Allynn Umel, an organizing director with Fight For 15, said that McDonald’s failure to effectively police sexual harassment has the same root cause as the complaints workers have had about their own safety while working during the coronavirus outbreak—complaints that have sparked walkouts across the country in recent weeks. “They have failed absolutely,” Umel said, “in being able to protect their own workers.” 

This article was originally published at In These Times on April 13, 2020. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Hamilton Nolan is a labor reporting fellow at In These Times. He has spent the past decade writing about labor and politics for Gawker, Splinter, The Guardian, and elsewhere. You can reach him at [email protected].


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Everyone can get coronavirus, but economic inequality means it will be worst for those at the bottom

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Coronavirus doesn’t spare the powerful. As of this writing, two members of the Housea senator, and the president of Harvard University have tested positive. But as with so many things in the unequal United States of America, it’s going to be worse for people who are already vulnerable: low-income people, people in rural areas, homeless people, single parents, inmates, and more.

There’s the constant strain of affording health care in a system that bankrupts so many people. There’s the need to go to work no matter what if you live paycheck to paycheck and don’t have paid sick leave. There’s the fact that so many of those low-wage jobs require face-to-face contact.

COVID-19 disproportionately hits older people, and rural populations skew old. The most common jobs in rural areas tend not to offer paid sick leave. Rural areas have also lost more than 100 hospitals in the past decade, so the remaining hospitals may struggle to keep up with increased need even more than hospitals in other areas of the country—where it’s already expected to be bad.

We’re told that staying away from other people and washing our hands a lot are two of the best ways to combat the spread of coronavirus. Homeless people lack access to sanitation and often live in crowded environments, be they shelters or encampments. Inmates are another group living in crowded environments and prisons often lack soap as well.

In the workplace, a Politico analysis found that nearly 24 million people are in particularly high-risk, low-wage jobs—cashiers, home health aides, paramedics. Their jobs require them to get close to lots of people day after day, and all too often lack paid sick leave.

Low-income people also can’t stockpile food and retreat to their homes to ride it out—because most don’t have the savings to buy two weeks of food all at once. Families whose kids rely on free or reduced-price school lunches may still have access to those meals, but they are likely to have to go out every day to pick up the food. And many say that their school districts haven’t told them where to go for meals.

Anyone can get sick from COVID-19. Anyone can get very sick from it. But that doesn’t mean the suffering will be evenly distributed. 

This article was originally published at Daily Kos on March 24, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is a Daily Kos contributor at Daily Kos editor since December 2006. Full-time staff since 2011, currently assistant managing editor.


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CHARTS: Economic Mobility Is Stronger In Union States

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The ability of American workers to be upwardly mobile in the economy depends heavily on where they live, according to a state-by-state analysis from Pew Charitable Trusts. The study, the first of its kind, found that workers in a group of states largely clustered in the Northeast and Midwest are more likely to achieve upward mobility, while workers in southern states are far less likely.

For the most part, the states in each group differ on one major characteristic: the states where upward mobility is more likely are almost all union states, while the states where mobility is less likely almost all are not. Of the eight states that outperform the national average for upward economic mobility, seven are union states, with Utah the lone exception. Eight of the nine that underperform the national average, however, are so-called “right to work” states, with Kentucky the only exception:

mobilitymapChart via USA Today

When relative mobility is considered, union states look even better. Every state but one (Utah) that outperforms the national average on relative mobility, defined as the percentage of residents starting in the bottom half of the national distribution who move up 10 or more percentiles in a 10-year period, is a union state. Meanwhile, 14 of the 15 states that come in below the national average are right-to-work states, with Missouri the only exception:

mobilitymap2

Chart via Pew Charitable Trusts

Though the study didn’t find (or attempt to find) a direct correlation between union representation and mobility, an economist at the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research in Michigan told USA Today that higher mobility there is likely linked to higher wages in manufacturing and public sector jobs, both of which tend to be more heavily organized. Those ties also exist in the other union states, which rely more on manufacturing than the right-to-work states.

As ThinkProgress has previously noted, unions played a significant role in the construction of the American middle class, boosting the mobility of lower-income workers. The decline in union representation, meanwhile, correlates closely with a sharp rise in income inequality over the last 40 years. Other studies have shown that workers who join unions earn higher wages and are more likely to have health and retirement benefits, and that union membership increases the likelihood of upward economic mobility.

This blog originally appeared in Think Progress on May 10, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the author: Travis Waldron is a reporter/blogger for ThinkProgress.org at the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Travis grew up in Louisville, Kentucky, and holds a BA in journalism and political science from the University of Kentucky. Before coming to ThinkProgress, he worked as a press aide at the Health Information Center and as a staffer on Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway’s 2010 Senate campaign. He also interned at National Journal’s Hotline and was a sports writer and political columnist at the Kentucky Kernel, the University of Kentucky’s daily student newspaper.


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