EEOC Has Beef with McDonald’s in Arizona, New Mexico

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced at a press conference this week that it has filed two employment discrimination lawsuits on behalf of teen workers against franchises of McDonald’s restaurant in Arizona and New Mexico.

The first suit was filed against Pand Enterprises Inc. for same-sex harassment and retaliation against a class of young men employed at McDonald’s in Albuquerque, N.M. The second suit was filed against GLC Inc., an Arizona corporation, for sexual harassment against a class of young women at its McDonald’s restaurant in Cordes Junction, Ariz.

“Employers must recognize their responsibility to assure that young workers one of the most vulnerable segments of the labor force are not harassed by supervisors or co-workers,” said Chester Bailey, EEOC’s Director of the Phoenix District Office, which has jurisdiction for Arizona, Utah and New Mexico. “These cases involve a clear failure of employers to abide by the law and respect the dignity of teen employees who are new to the workplace and may be unaware of their rights.”

The EEOC’s lawsuit, EEOC v. Pand Enterprises Inc., d/b/a McDonald’s Restaurant, Civil Action No. 05-CIV-204, filed in U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico, claims that a class of young men were subjected to same-sex harassment by a male supervisor, including unwanted touching, requests for sex and sexual remarks. The lawsuit further claims that one young male employee’s work hours were cut in retaliation for opposing the sexual harassment.

The Arizona lawsuit, EEOC v. GLC Inc., d/b/a McDonald’s Restaurant, CIV 05-0618 PCT PGR, filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona, Prescott division, claims that a class of teenage female employees were subjected to sexual harassment by a male assistant manager. EEOC asserts that the sexual harassment included, but was not limited to, touching female employees in an unwelcome sexual manner grabbing them around the waist; rubbing their stomachs; grabbing their breasts; backing them against a wall while rubbing their shoulders; putting his hands in their pockets; and rubbing up against them.

The suit says that although employees complained to management about the unlawful conduct, no appropriate action was taken to address and correct the situation. Additionally, EEOC says that one female employee’s work conditions were made so intolerable that she had no choice but to resign, and thus was constructively discharged in violation of the law.

The alleged conduct in both cases violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex (including sexual harassment or pregnancy) or national origin and protects employees who complain about such offenses from retaliation.

Mary Jo O’Neill, regional attorney at the EEOC’s Phoenix District Office, said, “Federal law protects workers, including teens, against sexual harassment and other forms of discrimination. Employers who provide after-school or weekend job opportunities for young workers have a responsibility to abide by the law and provide a work environment free of harassment. Young workers need to know they do not have to put up with any type of discrimination period in order to attain or retain gainful employment.”

The EEOC filed the suits after exhausting its conciliation efforts to reach voluntary pre-litigation settlements in both cases. The lawsuits ask the courts to order McDonald’s to provide the harassment victims with appropriate relief, including back wages, compensatory damages, and punitive damages; to grant a permanent injunction enjoining this employer from engaging in any practice that discriminates on the bases of sex and retaliation; and to order the employers to institute and carry out policies and practices which eradicate sexual harassment, and prevent sexual harassment and retaliation from occurring in the future.

EEOC Vice Chair Naomi Earp, who was in Phoenix to host the press conference, said, “Each year, millions of teens work part-time or during the summer, and EEOC is committed to working with employers to help ensure that every teen’s first work experience is a positive one. While the Commission strives to proactively prevent discrimination through education and outreach as a first resort, we will not hesitate to use our litigation tools when necessary.”

In September 2004, Earp launched the agency’s national Youth@Work Initiative to educate teens about their employment rights and responsibilities and to help employers create positive first work experiences for young adults.

As part of that effort, EEOC recently entered into a partnership with the National Restaurant Association to promote fair and inclusive workplaces for teens in the food services industry.