Young women from across the country with strikingly similar reports of harassment and harassment at work at one of America’s largest and most iconic fast food chains: McDonald’s:
“He would comment on my body, and the bodies of other workers, saying, like, ‘I’m going to have sex with you, I’m not going to have sex with him,'” says Emily Anibal.
“First she was like, ‘You have great hair,’ started touching my hair,” said Jamelia Fairley. “Then she was like, physical; then she really started clutching my ass.”
Kat Barber said, “Any woman he can handle or be with, he takes advantage of the moment.”
Kimberly Lawson said, “It made me feel isolated. I thought I was the only one going on right now, you know what I was saying? So I just felt, like, really alone.”
Lawson, Fairley, Barber and Anibal have all filed discrimination charges or filed suit against McDonald’s company restaurants or franchises they independently own. Each told a story of ongoing and unwanted harassment from male coworkers.
Barber said, “The tongs we use to make food, he’s going to use them to, like, grab my breasts.”
“48 Hours” correspondent Erin Moriarty asks, “Did she do that when it was just the two of you, or did other people see this happen?”
“He’s not trying to hide it at all,” he replied. “It’s in front of everyone.”
Gillian Thomas, a senior attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union, said, “It’s hard to believe that, in this day and age, that is still happening so horribly, this is out in the open.”
Thomas said hundreds of female employees had been subjected to sexual harassment at McDonald’s restaurants, as described in as many as 100 lawsuits and allegations of discrimination.
“Another part that was very surprising at McDonald’s, which, of course, billed itself as America’s best first job, was how young the victims were – 15, 16, 17 years,” said Thomas.
“You’re not saying this only happens at McDonald’s?” Moriarty asked.
“Oh, far from it. The food service industry in general is one of the worst for sexual harassment claims.”
Last year, in a survey of nearly 800 female workers at McDonald’s restaurants and franchises, three-quarters said they were being harassed at work. In the same survey, conducted by trade unions, the majority (71%) said they had suffered the consequences for reporting such behavior.
But a company spokesman denied the findings, saying the sample size was too small, and “inconsistent with what we see at McDonald’s restaurants.”
However, there are stories like Jamelia Fairley. She told Moriarty that, after she reported the harassment, “they gave me 11 hours to 15 hours. And I can’t work those hours; it’s not enough, it doesn’t help me maintain my place.”
In late 2018, Fairley, then 24 and a single mother, was working at a company-owned McDonalds in Florida when, she said, a new co-worker started making lewd, touching comments.
“When he first touched me, I told him to take care of his own hands, like ‘Don’t touch me,'” she said.
“And what was his reaction when you said that?” Moriarty asked.
“He thought it was a joke.”
“Did anyone else see this happen?”
“Yes,” Fairley replied, “and he did it to other women at McDonald’s too. I’m not the only one.”
Fairley reported the behavior to his supervisor and general manager, however, he said, it didn’t end the offensive behavior: “It got even worse, to the point where he pushed me, like, he pulled me to his crotch. The manager was standing there watching him, like , and they didn’t do anything. “
She ended up being transferred to another shop, she said, but not until Fairley reported another incident with a different co-worker: “This particular comment, she, was, like, really pissed me off. … She had asked me how much it cost. had sex with my daughter at the time, and she was only one year old. ”
The employee was fired.
Fairley stayed behind. She said she needed the job, “so I can provide a roof over her head.”
In a company video, McDonald’s new CEO, Chris Kempczinski, says the company wants to be a leader when it comes to values: “That’s why now is the perfect time to have this conversation … We’re doing the right thing for the right reasons. I like that phrase because it touches you in the stomach. Everyone knows what it means to do the right thing. “
At the end of 2019, the company issued an extensive new policy to address sexual harassment at its company stores. But 95% of McDonald’s are independently owned franchises, and there the policy is only a “resource” – not a requirement.
And here’s how some of the previous employees described the sexual harassment training they received:
Kimberly Lawson, who worked at the McDonald’s franchise in Kansas City in 2017 and 2018: “My orientation is a woman, she’s sitting across from me. She has a pile of papers. She said, ‘Here, we’ll get to this very quickly. I want you to. sign and date everything so we can work this out. ‘”
Moriarty asked, “Do you know if you signed anything that included a policy regarding complaints such as sexual harassment, and what would you do if you found it?”
“I don’t know,” Lawson replied.
We hear the same stories over and over.
Fairley said, “I was never taught that at all.”
Emily Anibal said, “I don’t remember any training on that, or hearing about it.”
Kat Barber said, “There’s a page in the policy book I signed, but no, you know, read it with me.”
Gillian Thomas of the ACLU said, “So policies that are on a piece of paper, stuck in a handbook that never actually apply in a work environment, are pointless.”
That’s how a worker at a McDonald’s franchise in Mason, Michigan was able to harass a colleague there for years.
Eve Cervantez, the employment attorney who sued McDonald’s and franchises, said, “This is a case where there was a chain harasser, a chain predator. He harassed, you know, every woman who was there, basically.”
Anibal was 17 when he started working at McDonald’s in April 2016, and met Shawn Banks, a shift manager.
Moriarty asked, “How often does he comment or touch someone?”
“Almost every shift, for most of the shift,” answered Anibal.
“Do you think you should just endure it?”
“Yeah, that’s the kind of environment I think the restaurant was built in, is, ‘This is normal. And if you don’t like it, then you can leave.'”
He finally left, in the spring of 2017.Five months later, when Barber (then 18) started working there, Banks was still A Manager.
He said to Moriarty, “He used to call me ‘bitch,’ slut, ” ugly. ‘I was’ fat,’ I told him to stop.”
“And what is he?”
“No,” said Barber. “If anything, it will make it last longer.”
Barber said he reported the behavior to the general manager: “I would normally laugh, [or] was told that I was being dramatic. ”
In September 2018, he also quit his job.
Moriarty asked, “In the end, what made you leave?”
“It’s too much to see not only other people being sexually harassed, but also getting myself sexually harassed,” said Barber. “It had such a huge impact on my life personally. Even when I was looking for a new job, I was worried whether someone at work would harass me sexually.”
Shawn Banks did not respond to a request for a CBS News interview. The franchisor, through a lawyer, refused to answer written questions.
Moriarty asked Eve’s lawyer Cervantez, “Isn’t it just a matter of one bad apple?”
“It’s really not about one bad apple. The problem is not only that you have a harasser; you have a harper that doesn’t stop.”
After Anibal and Barber – along with several other women – filed a lawsuit, the franchisor sold the shop.
Moriarty said, “McDonald’s could say, ‘How can we monitor the environment at each of these McDonald’s?'”
“First of all, McDonald’s really exerted a lot of control over its franchise,” Cervantez replied. “You go to McDonald’s anywhere in the country, they manage to have exactly the same hamburger and fries. So they actually have a lot of control. So the McDonald’s company can definitely train these general managers about sexual harassment and how to deal with it.”
In a statement to CBS News, McDonald’s said that it “provides training … for franchisees” … and has “provided a hotline for all franchisees to provide to their employees.”
If McDonald’s were responsible for the cases brought by these women, the damages might not be large; none of them make more than $ 14 per hour.
But in a job that some consider unimportant, Jamelia Fairley says she’s finally seen and hear.
Moriarty asked, “Do you sometimes regret complaining?”
“No, I don’t regret complaining at all,” Fairley replied. “I feel like I’m defending myself. I’m defending my daughter. I’m defending other women she’s bullied. I feel like I’m making a difference.”
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Story produced by Sari Aviv. Editor: George Pozderec.