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McSuit: McDonald’s faces sexual harassment case

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Former employees have filed a $500 million class action lawsuit against the burger giant, reports Amelia Levin

If the restaurant news as of late isn’t dark enough lately, two employees of a McDonald’s in Florida have filed a $500 million class action lawsuit, accusing the chain of “systemic sexual harassment,” the BBC first reported.

The suit lists Jamelia Fairley and Ashley Reddick as the main plaintiffs representing some 5,000 women from more than 100 US McDonald’s outlets and backed by Time’s UP, a legal charity funded in part by Hollywood A-listers created in 2018 during the peak of the #MeToo movement last year. Fairley and Reddick claim that they were harassed by two colleagues who made sexually-explicit comments toward her and would even grope and touch them in unwanted ways. After speaking up to managers, their hours were cut.

“Jamelia and I are filing this lawsuit on behalf of McDonald’s workers across Florida because the company needs to step up and protect us,” Reddick told the BBC. “We’re not the only ones who have been sexually harassed while on the job at McDonald’s… 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.”

Powerful advocates

Two management advisory services (MAS) consultants weighed in on the issue — and were appalled at the news.

“Bad behavior, sexual or otherwise, is not going to be accepted anymore,” says Arlene Spiegel FCSI, of the business consultancy Arlene Spiegel & Associates, Inc., in New York. “Women have outlets and platforms and powerful advocates to have their grievances aired. It’s particularly distressing that it’s the McDonalds corporate stores, which should exhibit exemplary behavior, that is being sued. In this age of ‘high value brand positioning’ the culture and behavior are as important as the products these brands sell.”

Karen Malody FCSI, principal of Culinary Options, LLC, also showed dismay at the filing, and offered her view on how all companies—restaurants or not—should set up their harassment policies. “Leaders must set the tone for appropriate policies and behaviors,” she says. “The rules and regulations about what constitutes sexual harassment must be made impeccably clear – defined right down to the nitty-gritty,” she says.

“Without explicit language, in this day and age, many behaviors – even if truly innocent or naive ones – can turn into a sexual harassment suit.”

Finding accountability

Once explicitly defined, all employees should be held accountable for reading (or hearing, if presented orally) the policies and sign their names that they understand, says Malody. “Such an approach expresses, without a shadow of a doubt, what is considered ‘right’ and what is  considered ‘wrong.’

A major hurdle is that employees often come together from diverse backgrounds. “There is no way of knowing what their views about what inappropriate sexual conduct might be,” Malody says. As such, the “interpretation field” must be leveled by company leaders.

“Whether we like it or not, the simplest gesture today can be interpreted as sexual harassment; this is why getting the rules in writing, with clear examples of behaviors that will not be tolerated, are so critical. I also believe it is critical for leaders and managers to have open sessions and dialogues about these issues, even to the extent of offering additional definitions or policies to become part of the organization’s standard operating procedures and best practices.”

Since its inception, Time’s Up has received more than 4,915 requests for assistance and has raised $24 million in donations, showing the persistent nature of this ongoing, multi-industry problem. MAS consultants, therefore, are in a unique position to help their clients shape up in this area.

Amelia Levin