On January 22, 2015, ten former McDonald’s employees sued the fast-food chain for racism and sexual harassment. The plaintiffs, nine African-American workers and one Hispanic worker, claimed that they experienced “rampant racial and sexual harassment” from supervisors at three Virginia McDonald’s franchises. According to the lawsuit, the supervisors used inappropriate and demeaning racial language to refer to the employees, and subjected some employees to sexual harassment. High-ranking managers allegedly told employees that the store was “too dark,” and that the supervisors needed to “get the ghetto out of the store.” One supervisor sent several workers images of his genitals, and touched them inappropriately on-the-job. Another supervisor called a Hispanic worker a “dirty Mexican.” Many of the employees who experienced discrimination and sexual harassment from their supervisors felt pressured to quit because of the abuse. The situation was exacerbated by McDonald’s lack of response to the complaints brought forth by the employees. Soon after the discriminatory comments were made, the stores hired a large number of white workers, and fired several of the African-American employees who are now plaintiffs in the case. When one employee was terminated, he was told that he did not “fit the profile” of the store. He did not fully understand the implications of the phrase until he saw that the other individuals who were fired were predominately African-American. According to him, he had always been on time for his shift and was a good worker. Based on his work performance and his supervisors’ discriminatory comments, his termination appears to be motivated by the employer’s racial discrimination. The lawsuit names both the franchise owner and McDonald’s Corporation as defendants. Though McDonald’s has argued that it cannot be held responsible for the behavior of its franchisees, the US National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled that it could be held liable for infractions by franchise operators in July 2014. In the past, corporations were generally not held accountable for franchisees’ illegal activities, as stores were considered independent operations. If the court finds McDonald’s liable for the behavior of its franchisee in this case, the decision will implicate the entire franchising industry and could lead to widespread changes in these companies’ discrimination and sexual harassment policies. Racial and Gender Discrimination Come in Many Forms In the McDonald’s case, employees experienced a number of forms of illegal practices, including:
  • Sexual harassment
  • Inappropriate physical contact
  • Racially discriminatory and derogatory remarks
  • Racial profiling
  • Wrongful termination
  • Hostile work environment
  • Pressure to resign because of a hostile work environment also known as constructive termination
  • Cursing and vulgar language
In New York City, any of these practices could result in financial liability for the employer. Workers are protected from racial discrimination and sexual harassment in the workplace by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, New York State Executive Law, and New York City Human Rights Law. Victims of discrimination and sexual harassment may be eligible for monetary damages to compensate for their financial losses and emotional distress. If you have experienced similar racial discrimination or sexual harassment in the workplace, contact Akin Law Group immediately to find out more information about your situation. You may be entitled to bring a lawsuit against your current or former employer and may be eligible to recover damages for the harassment and discrimination you were subjected as well as recover for lost wages if you were terminated or forced to quit.