By Lauren Rearick
A 19-year-old is among 25 McDonald’s employees who have come forward with allegations of sexual misconduct, citing instances they say occurred at restaurants and the chain’s corporate headquarters, USA Today reports.
In an interview with The New York Times, 19-year-old Brittany Hoyos detailed the misconduct she had endured in 2016 as a 16-year-old employee of a Tucson, Arizona, McDonald’s. (Most McDonald’s locations are franchised by individual owners; the ACLU Women’s Rights Project told the NYT such structuring has ultimately served as a “shield” against employee misconduct.) She said that the restaurant’s manager had attempted to kiss her, contacted her outside of work through text, and repeatedly made attempts to touch her. “He nearly took every opportunity to touch me or brush up against me,” she said.
Hoyos blamed herself, telling The New York Times, “I just thought that was something that you would have to put up with. I was embarrassed. I felt like I was at fault or that I had done something wrong.”
She had told her parents, who told her supervisor, but Hoyos said she and her mother, who also worked at the restaurant, were subject to retaliation. Both later made the decision to quit their jobs.
On Tuesday, May 21, the TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund, along with the American Civil Liberties Union, and the Fight For $15 held a news conference detailing the allegations that employees say they were subjected to. NBC News reports the reported misconduct included acts of groping, lewd comments, and indecent exposure, and were directed at employees who were as young as 16 or 17 at the time of the incidents. Employees allege that when they brought forth their concerns, they were “ignored or treated as a joke.” Others were reportedly reprimanded and suffered a loss of scheduled working hours and even termination.
The allegations were announced as the company prepared to hold its annual shareholders meeting on Thursday, May 23. In response, McDonald’s employees held protests in 13 different cities on Thursday, demanding change. Several politicians, including 2020 Democratic hopefuls, supported the workers; some even marched with them.
In an open letter to McDonald’s on its website, the TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund explained its involvement, and accused the chain of inadequately responding to previous allegations that were brought forth more than a year ago. “It’s time for McDonald’s to take affirmative steps to change the dangerous conditions that have persisted at your locations around the globe,” the letter reads.
In a statement, Sharyn Tejani, director of the TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund, said, “It’s a brutal reality across the fast food industry that at least one in four workers — especially women of color working low-wage jobs — experience sexual harassment as a routine part of their job. Every day, workers are forced to choose between getting a paycheck or speaking up about their abuse. When they report harassment, workers are often fired or have their shifts cut — and since nothing is done to stop it, the scourge continues.”
CNBC reports that McDonald’s CEO, Steve Easterbrook defended his company, noting that McDonald’s has been working with RAINN to better educate its employees about what constitutes sexual harassment. He also responded to the allegations in a letter, writing, “By strengthening our overall policy, creating interactive training, a third-party managed anonymous hotline and importantly, listening to employees across the system, McDonald’s is sending a clear message that we are committed to creating and sustaining a culture of trust where employees feel safe, valued and respected.”
Forty percent of women employed by fast food companies say they have experienced harassment at work, a 2016 from Hart Research Associates detailed. More than 1,000 women participated in the study, and the results pointed to a startling trend: 28 percent of those surveyed had experienced harassment on multiple occasions.
As the fast food industry continues to contend with reported misconduct, Christine Saah Nazer, spokesperson for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, told MTV News that employees can take action to report alleged misconduct. Along with understanding your rights to a workplace that’s free of discrimination and harassment, she notes that “harassment should be reported to your supervisor and/or the company’s human resources department.” If the issues goes unresolved, there are resources on filing a complaining with the EEOC online or in-person.
MTV News has reached out to McDonald’s for comment.