McDonald’s Corp., in the face of criticism for its handling of harassment complaints, says it’s training workers to deal with the issue and is starting a hotline for victims.
In a letter responding to an inquiry from U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth, Chief Executive Officer Steve Easterbrook said the company has improved its policy and is committed “to ensuring a harassment and bias-free workplace.”
But pressure is rising for the world’s largest restaurant chain. Workers and advocacy groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union and the union-backed Fight For $15, announced five new lawsuits on Tuesday, along with 20 complaints to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. They accuse the company of failing to prevent misconduct including groping, inappropriate comments from supervisors and retaliation for speaking up.
That brings the total number of lawsuits and complaints over the past three years to more than 50. The National Organization for Women and the National Women’s Law Center have alleged that workers at McDonald’s stores “face rampant sexual harassment.”
McDonald’s didn’t immediately comment on the new cases.
“We have enhanced our policy so that it more clearly informs employees of their rights, more clearly defines sexual harassment, discrimination and retaliation, and provides examples of what unacceptable behavior looks like,” Easterbrook said in the letter dated May 20, which was viewed by Bloomberg News. Duckworth, a Democrat, is the junior senator from McDonald’s home state of Illinois.
The company started working with anti-abuse organization RAINN last year to get recommendations on how to prevent misconduct, according to the letter. As part of its updated policy, McDonald’s is offering a third-party hotline and training on harassment and discrimination. Easterbrook said 90% of operators and general mangers have taken the training. McDonald’s will offer training to other crew members on harassment, unconscious bias and workplace safety.
The actions send “a clear message that we are committed to creating and sustaining a culture of trust where employees feel safe, valued and respected,” according to Easterbrook’s letter. “Most importantly, it shows we’re changing to meet the needs of our workforce and the communities where we live and operate.”
Advocates of workers rights were unpersuaded, however.
“The majority of our clients allege harassment occurring precisely when the company claims it was making these reforms, and we can find no one who has heard of a new policy or training initiative,” Gillian Thomas, a senior staff attorney for the ACLU, said in a statement Tuesday.
McDonald’s employee Jamelia Fairley, who alleges her hours were cut after she she reported inappropriate touching at her corporate-run store, told reporters Tuesday that the new policy hasn’t been communicated at the employee level.
“We haven’t received any training or seen any evidence of change,” she said.
Last September, workers mounted a one-day strike designed to spotlight the company’s alleged sexual-harassment problem. The Fight For $15 also criticized McDonald’s last year for choosing the management-side law firm Seyfarth Shaw as as one of its advisers on sexual harassment policy. The firm’s clients included Weinstein Co., which it was defending in litigation over Harvey Weinstein’s alleged misconduct.
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