A legal defense fund created in the wake of the Me Too movement is confronting two of the largest employers in the United States about sexual harassment in the workplace.
Female cooks and cashiers at McDonald’s, with the financial support of the defense fund, have filed 10 charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in recent days against restaurant locations in nine cities, including Detroit, Los Angeles and New Orleans.
One McDonald’s worker in Chicago alleges that a manager asked her if she wanted to see his penis, and described “lurid fantasies” about what he would like to do to her. She said she was fired when she reported the harassment, according to a press release about her case.
Breauna Morrow, a 15-year-old cashier at a McDonald’s in St. Louis, said her supervisors did nothing when she complained of a co-worker who repeatedly sexually harassed her.
“McDonald’s advertises all over television saying it’s ‘America’s best first job,’ but my experience has been a nightmare,” Breauna said in a statement. “I know I’m not the only one and that’s why I’m speaking out, so others don’t have to face the harassment I’ve gone through.”
The lawsuits are among the first to arise following the creation of the defense fund in late 2017, amid a wave of sexual misconduct allegations against powerful men in Hollywood, the media and other industries. The Time’s Up Defense Fund, backed in part by A-listers like Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington, offers financial backing for workers to effectively challenge sexual harassment.
“Sexual harassment takes a devastating toll on the women who endure it,” Sharyn Tejani, director of the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund, said on a call with reporters Tuesday.
“The fast food industry has an atrocious record on sexual harassment in the workplace,” Tejani said. “No worker at any job ever should have to endure abuse for a paycheck.”
Fight for $15, the organization focused on establishing a higher minimum wage for fast-food workers, partnered with Time’s Up on the McDonald’s cases. Fight for $15 announced Tuesday that it has set up a hotline for fast-food workers to have their charges reviewed by lawyers.
The McDonald’s workers are demanding the company enforce the zero tolerance policy against sexual harassment outlined in its manual. They are also calling for mandatory sexual harassment trainings for managers and employees.
In a statement to HuffPost, Terri Hickey, a spokeswoman for McDonald’s USA, said the company is “committed to a culture that fosters the respectful treatment of everyone.”
“There is no place for harassment and discrimination of any kind in our workplace,” Hickey said. “McDonald’s Corporation takes allegations of sexual harassment very seriously and are confident our independent franchisees who own and operate approximately 90 percent of our 14,000 U.S. restaurants will do the same.”
The Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund also announced Tuesday its role in a lawsuit filed by Gina Pitre, a former Walmart worker in Mississippi. Pitre alleges that her manager made “unwelcomed sexual comments [and] unwelcomed requests for text pictures” during her time at Walmart, the country’s largest corporate employer of women.
“For more than a year, my manager at Walmart repeatedly sexually harassed me while I was on the job,” Pitre said in a statement. “I tried to tell the company what was happening, but Walmart did nothing to hold the harasser accountable or keep me safe.”
Randy Hargrove, a spokesman for Walmart, told HuffPost the company had investigated Pitre’s accusations and “could not find sufficient evidence to substantiate a violation of our discrimination and harassment policy.”
“We take this matter seriously and we will respond appropriately,” Hargrove said.
Last week, members of OUR Walmart, an advocacy group for retail workers, sent a letter to Walmart CEO Doug McMillon, demanding the company commit to stricter policies on sexual harassment. The letter, signed by several high-profile activists including actress Susan Sarandon, called on Walmart to create a streamlined, transparent process for filing sexual harassment complaints.
Hargrove said the company already has “strong policies and procedures in place to address allegations of sexual harassment.”
“We believe our current practices meet or exceed many of the requests in the letter,” he said. “Like anything at Walmart, we will continue to review our policies and enhance them as appropriate.”
Pitre and other OUR Walmart members refuse to back down until they feel meaningful change has taken place.
“I’m speaking up for justice for myself and so that no woman has to experience what I went through at Walmart or in any job,” Pitre said in a statement. “Time is up for sexual harassment ― and for companies that won’t take action to protect their employees.”
Need help? Visit RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Online Hotline or the National Sexual Violence Resource Center’s website.