Written by DEE-ANN DURBIN AP Business Writer
Former McDonald’s workers who alleged rampant sexual harassment at their Michigan restaurant have reached a $1.5 million settlement agreement with the restaurant’s former owner.
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 sued the Michigan-based franchisee, which operated under the names MLMLM Corp. and Maaks Inc., and Chicago-based McDonald’s Corp. in 2019.
Ries, who worked at a Mason, Michigan, McDonald’s for three years, alleged that a general manager ignored her male co-worker’s repeated harassment of her and other female workers, including groping, physical assault and verbal epithets.
Ries said 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.
Ries said she sued so that other women wouldn’t have to go through what she endured.
“No one should have to put up with sexual harassment to get a paycheck,” Ries said in a statement.
Last year, a federal judge granted class-action status to the lawsuit, based on evidence showing that the same male worker consistently and severely harassed approximately 100 women and teen girls who worked at the store. 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.
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.
“It is unconscionable that McDonald’s continues to say ‘not it’ when it comes to sexual harassment of workers at its franchise locations,” said Darcie Brault, an attorney for Ries and other plaintiffs.
Email and phone messages seeking comment were left with attorneys for the franchisee, who no longer owns the Mason, Michigan, restaurant.
McDonald’s said it had no comment on the proposed settlement.
The lawsuit came amid a larger reckoning for McDonald’s over sexual harassment in its stores and corporate offices.
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.