McDonald's franchisee agrees to pay $1.5M settlement in workers' sexual harassment lawsuit

FOX Business Flash top headlines for April 5

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Former McDonald's workers have agreed to a $1.5 million settlement with the former owner of a Michigan restaurant where the group of women and girls alleged the general manager ignored rampant sexual harassment by the same male co-worker that include groping, physical assault and verbal epithets. 

The American Civil Liberties Union’s Women's Rights Project, which helped represent the employees, announced the settlement deal Monday. It must still be approved by a federal judge.

Former McDonald’s worker Jenna Ries initially sued the Michigan-based franchisee, which operated under the names MLMLM Corp. and Maaks Inc., and Chicago-based McDonald’s Corp. in 2019. 

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Ries alleged that her male co-worker, who was in a mid-management role, frequently propositioned her for sex on the job, called her vulgar epithets in front of the store’s general manager and frequently grabbed her breasts, buttocks and crotch. According to the lawsuit, she often cried on her way to work and felt physically ill. Eventually she transferred to another location, but the co-worker who allegedly harassed her remained at the original location.

In December 2021, a federal judge granted class-action status to the suit based on evidence showing that the same male worker consistently and severely harassed approximately 100 women and teen girls who worked at the store in Mason, Michigan. If the settlement is approved, workers will be eligible to claim an average award of $10,000 depending on the extent of the harassment they endured.

This June 25, 2019, photo shows the sign outside a McDonald’s restaurant. In a deal announced Monday, April 4, 2022, former McDonald’s workers who alleged rampant sexual harassment at their Michigan restaurant have reached a $1.5 million settlement a (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File / AP Newsroom)

"No one should have to put up with sexual harassment to get a paycheck," Ries, who worked at the Mason store for three years, said in a statement Monday. "I filed this lawsuit because I didn’t want other women to go through what I did while working at McDonald’s. I hope those who were abused will get the compensation they deserve, but I also hope McDonald’s will listen to survivors, and do everything possible to prevent sexual harassment in its restaurants."

Ries initially sought at least $5 million in damages for herself and other female employees. But McDonald’s Corp. successfully argued that it didn’t employ the women directly. Around 95% of McDonald’s 14,000 U.S. stores are owned and operated by franchisees.

Attorneys for Ries said they had hoped McDonald's would accept more responsibility.

A “Now Hiring” sign outside a McDonald’s Corp. fast food restaurant in Louisville, Kentucky, Oct. 22, 2021.  ( Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images / Getty Images)

"While this settlement is a win for dozens of Mason McDonald’s workers who claimed egregious harassment, it unfortunately doesn’t go as far as we would have hoped, because McDonald’s corporate wasn’t at the table," Gillian Thomas, senior staff attorney at the ACLU Women’s Rights Project, said. 

"If McDonald’s accepted responsibility for the well-being of the nearly one million people who work under the Golden Arches, it would protect countless workers from harassment and violence," explained Darcie Brault, Michigan-based counsel for the Mason plaintiffs. "It is unconscionable that McDonald’s continues to say ‘not it’ when it comes to sexual harassment of workers at its franchise locations."

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The lawsuit came amid a larger reckoning for McDonald’s over sexual harassment. Since 2016, at least 100 formal complaints and lawsuits have been filed alleging workplace harassment in McDonald's restaurants, the ACLU said. In 2019, the company also fired its former CEO Steve Easterbrook for violating a policy forbidding relationships between supervisors and their subordinates.

Last April, the company announced that it would mandate worker training and reporting procedures to combat harassment, discrimination and violence in its restaurants worldwide starting this year.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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