The #MeToo movement continues to see aftershocks ripple across various industries. The latest is from McDonald’s employees in nine different states. That includes one right here in Missouri. 10 McDonald’s employees are alleging sexual assault or harassment within McDonald’s franchises.
A St. Louis teenager is alleging unwanted groping, unwanted sexual propositions, indecent exposure, and lewd comments by supervisors. She is one of 10 women across the U.S. who is saying that McDonald’s “zero-tolerance” policy toward sexual harassment has not been enforced to any reasonable degree.
Suing the McDonald’s Corporation
One of the major issues workers will have suing the McDonald’s corporation itself is that individual McDonald’s locations are franchises. In other words, they are private companies owned and managed by individuals. This has proven a difficult hurdle for individuals who want to sue the corporation. It has also proven a difficult hurdle for individuals who want to unionize.
Traditionally, franchisors, like McDonald’s corporation, have not been responsible for labor violations of franchisees, like individual McDonald’s. In other words, when an individual franchise is accused of an employment violation, that franchise is responsible for incurring all the costs relating to settling that violation. This has been as true for sexual harassment and employment discrimination lawsuits as it has been for wage violations.
This, in turn, has created a situation in which franchisees incur all the risk associated with employment. On the other hand, franchisors have their own employees for whom they are responsible. So, the question becomes, who should be responsible for employment violations between franchisors and franchisees?
Handling Sexual Harassment in the Workplace
Regardless of who is ultimately responsible for settling a sexual harassment lawsuit in the workplace, an individual who has been on the receiving end of what these women are claiming happened in their workplaces is entitled to sue for damages.
It is hard to say if McDonald’s, the franchisor, would be considered responsible for the behavior of employees employed by a franchise. There are certainly those who believe that they should be. The legal question is whether or not they can be.
Let’s talk about this in terms of a hypothetical. If an employee who works McDonald’s is sexually harassed by a coworker and that individual makes a manager aware of the incident, the manager must do something to address the situation. If the manager does nothing, he or she has violated the law and the employee could sue for a hostile work environment.
If the same individual who was sexually harassed decides to inform McDonald’s corporate office about the situation, is McDonald’s corporate office responsible for taking action? This is where opinions differ.
Clearly, most franchisors are not keen on the idea of being liable for their franchisees’ employment violations. Meanwhile, the franchisees themselves are generally the ones who commit the violations. For the time being, lawyers will have the most success targeting franchises and not franchisors.
Have You been the Victim of Sexual Harassment in the Workplace?
If so, you may be entitled to damages. Contact HKM Employment Attorneys of Kansas City and we can begin discussing your case right away.