News Law and Policy

McDonald’s Sued for ‘Rampant’ Racial, Sexual Discrimination Against Employees

Jessica Mason Pieklo

The federal civil rights lawsuit could be an important step in holding corporate owners liable for actions of their franchise owners.

A federal civil rights lawsuit alleges that ten former McDonald’s employees experienced “rampant racial and sexual harassment, committed by the restaurants’ highest-ranking supervisors” at three McDonald’s restaurants in Virginia.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Virginia Thursday by former Black and Latino workers, alleges that both McDonald’s and one of its franchisees, Soweva Corporation, systemically violated federal civil rights laws and wrongfully terminated employees for being Black.

Soweva Corporation owns all three of the McDonald’s franchise locations at issue in the lawsuit.

According to the complaint, supervisors at the McDonald’s restaurants:

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… often complained that “there are too many black people in the store”; called African-American workers “bitch,” “ghetto,” and “ratchet”; called Hispanic workers ‘dirty Mexican’; disciplined African-American employees for rule infractions that were forgiven when committed by white employees; inappropriately touched female employees on their legs and buttocks; sent female employees sexual pictures; and solicited sexual relations from female employees.

The lawsuit alleges that Soweva implemented a plan to reduce the number of Black employees and replace them with white employees. Nine of the plaintiffs allege they were fired soon after and were told by supervisors they were terminated because they didn’t “fit the profile.”

The plaintiffs allege they complained to McDonald’s corporate office, but that their complaints were ignored.

The civil rights lawsuit represents the latest battle between McDonald’s and its employees over workers’ rights, working conditions and efforts to hold corporate brands accountable for the actions of their franchise owners.

In March, employees filed seven class action lawsuits accusing McDonald’s of widespread wage theft, linking the company’s responsibility to the franchise owners by showing how the company monitored labor costs at all its stores through a computer system. The National Labor Relations Board in July sided with employees and ruled the company could be held a “joint” employer for labor or wage violations at its franchise locations.

Building off July’s win, the the civil rights suit alleges that McDonald’s corporate and its local franchisees “operate … through uniform standards controlled by McDonald’s Corporate,” while violating Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which bans employment discrimination based on race, sex, and other characteristics.

McDonald’s has not yet responded to the complaint beyond issuing the following statement

We have not seen the lawsuit, and cannot comment on its allegations, but will review the matter carefully. McDonald’s has a long-standing history of embracing the diversity of employees, independent franchisees, customers and suppliers, and discrimination is completely inconsistent with our values. McDonald’s and our independent owner-operators share a commitment to the well-being and fair treatment of all people who work in McDonald’s restaurants.

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