Par Ventures, Inc., a North Carolina corporation that operates seven McDonald’s restaurants, has agreed to pay $12,500 to settle a U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) lawsuit alleging that a teenage worker was subjected a sexually hostile work environment.
EEOC alleged in a statement announcing the agreement that a “people manager” at one of the franchisee’s restaurants sexually harassed a 16-year-old employee in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The federal agency said the supervisor subjected her to sexual comments and requests and unwanted touching.
The five-year consent decree settling the lawsuit calls for Par Ventures to revise its policy on sexual harassment; post a notice concerning the lawsuit and employee rights; and conduct training for all employees.
McDonald’s itself has faced claims of harassment in recent months, leading it to launch an anonymous sexual harassment hotline, work with anti-sexual violence organization RAINN and create a gender initiative aimed at boosting recruitment and retention.
In May, labor organizations from around the world and the Fight for $15 organization in the U.S. filed a joint complaint against McDonald’s, alleging rampant sexual harassment in the company’s restaurants in Australia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, France, the United Kingdom, the United States and other countries. The complaint is not a lawsuit, but aimed to pressure McDonald’s into a mediation process to develop a global standard for employee safety.
In April, McDonald’s was hit with a $500 million class action sexual harassment lawsuit filed in a federal court in Chicago alleging “severe or pervasive sexual harassment” of female employees at roughly 100 McDonald’s corporate-owned restaurants in Florida. In response to that court filing, the company said the allegations had been promptly investigated and the new allegations raised in the complaint would also be investigated. The company said that its “safe and respectful workplace” training has been implemented in all corporate-owned restaurants, and franchisees are encouraged to do the same.
The company has faced court challenges over its position that workers at its franchisee-owned locations are not McDonald’s employees, and that the company itself is not a joint employer of such employees. This distinction has largely survived judicial challenges. In October, McDonald’s scored a victory when the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held the chain was not a joint employer in part because it didn’t have control over franchise workers’ wages, hours and working conditions. The company also had a win in December 2019 when the National Labor Relations Board approved a settlement agreement involving McDonald’s franchises that absolved the corporation from joint employment responsibility for certain alleged labor violations.
Employers that take proper action when sexual harassment complaints are made can have a strong defense if matters end up in court. Generally, the employer must show that it tried to prevent and promptly correct the harassing behavior, according to EEOC.