On Monday, two women in Sanford, Florida filed a $500 million (£400m) sexual harassment lawsuit against McDonald's, in hopes of addressing the company's alleged “systemic sexual harassment problem.” Jamelia Fairley, 24, who currently works at the Sanford, Florida location and Ashley Reddick, 28, a former employee, filed their class action lawsuit at a federal court in Chicago, Illinois, where McDonald’s headquarters is located. According to a press release detailing their suit, the two plaintiffs are seeking damages on behalf of not only themselves, but 5,000 women working at more than 100 corporate-run McDonald’s restaurants in Florida as of 2016.
“It’s unacceptable that as the second-largest employer in the country, McDonald’s is failing to keep workers like me and Ashley safe from harassment,” Fairley said in a statement provided to Refinery29 on Monday. “No one should have to go through what we’ve been through. But we’re strong, and together we have a voice. We’re using that voice to hold McDonald’s accountable.”
Both Fairley and Reddick are receiving legal assistance from the TIME'S UP Legal Defence Fund, who are helping to navigate the course of the lawsuit. According to the plantiffs' allegations, both were subjected to unwanted sexual harassment by their male coworkers while on the job. The suit details both verbal harassment — including sexually explicit comments — and physical abuse, citing instances of groping and unwanted contact. Fairley noted that, when she brought the instances up to her manager, her hours were cut. Reddick also claims to have lost out on shifts when she brought her own harassment to light.
But, this isn't the first time that the company has seen claims like this. The fast-food chain has been hit with more than 50 sexual harassment complaints in the last three years alone. “McDonald’s puts profits above people, protecting harassers so long as they keep flipping burgers, rather than protecting women workers subjected to unwelcome and offensive verbal and physical abuse,” the complaint reads.
In 2019, Fairley and Reddick filed complaints with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, who dismissed the allegations in January. Both women were given 90 days to sue the company and are now taking more serious action and seeking damages on a larger scale.
“We’re not the only ones who have been sexually harassed while on the job at McDonald’s — in our store, in Florida, and across the country,” Reddick said in a statement. “This is a nation-wide problem, the company has known about it for years and we won’t stop speaking out until McDonald’s listens to us.”
McDonald’s USA said in a statement to Refinery29 that the company “has always been committed to ensuring that our employees are able to work in an environment that is free from all forms of discrimination and harassment. McDonald’s is demonstrating its continued commitment to this issue through the implementation of Safe and Respectful Workplace Training in 100% of our corporate-owned restaurants and encourages our franchisees to do the same.”
Acknowledging the lawsuit directly, they noted 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 highlighted its recent steps towards acknowledging the issue of harassment, including a beefed-up discrimination, harassment, and retaliation prevention policy enacted in January 2019.
In the last year, McDonald’s has also been called out by multiple political figureheads, including Sens Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Tammy Duckworth, to address their culture of harassment more head on. Now, the two plaintiffs are refusing to go unnoticed — and the TIME'S UP fund is supporting their measures.
“It is past time for McDonald’s to be held accountable for the rampant sexual harassment faced by their workers, not just in Florida but throughout the country,” said Sharyn Tejani, Director of the TIME’S UP Legal Defence Fund. “The TIME’S UP Legal Defence Fund is proud to fund this suit and join in solidarity with the brave women who risked their jobs to bring these allegations forward. It’s time, McDonald’s, to support your employees, put their safety first, and put an end to this scourge.”