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McDonald’s Case May Set Precedent for Sexual Harassment Claims

June 24, 2021 | Sexual Harassment

According to a federal judge in Missouri, McDonald’s must face claims of sexual harassment and assault brought by a worker from a St. Louis franchise (Johnson v. McDonald Corp, et al. No. 4:20-CV-1867 (E.D. Mo. June 3, 2021)).

The plaintiff alleged that she was forced to quit her job after only a few weeks due to the severity of the sexual harassment.   She filed a lawsuit against the popular fast food chain, which has been embroiled in sex scandals outside of court as well, and the franchise operator for alleged violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

In addition, the plaintiff filed specific allegations that McDonald’s “conducted frequent inspections of the franchise and specified particular employees that were not performing their jobs in accordance with McDonald’s standards” according to the judge. McDonald’s also provided training the franchise’s general manager and provided guidance about employee training, the plaintiff alleged. “Although these allegations are relatively general,” the judge wrote, “they are specific enough to put the Defendants on notice of the claim against them.”

The plaintiff also alleged that “she applied for her job on a generic McDonald’s application that Defendants supplied,” according to the judge’s order. The plaintiff’s combined allegations, taken as true, “are sufficient to raise the reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of a joint employer or agency relationship,” said Judge Rodney W. Sippel of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri. He explained that courts will consider the interrelation of operations, common management, centralized control of labor relationships, and common ownership or financial control.

California Laws Regarding Workplace Harassment

Under California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act, or FEHA, it is unlawful “to harass an employee … because of race, religious creed, color, national origin, ancestry, physical disability, mental disability, medical condition, genetic information, marital status, sex, gender, gender identity, gender expression, age, sexual orientation, or military and veteran status.” Section 12940.

Under California law, there are two potential liabilities assessed for sexual harassment.  First, any employee who perpetrates (conducts) acts of sexual harassment against another employee is personally liable for damages to their victim regardless of whether or not the employer knew or should have known about the incident.  Secondly, employers are held “strictly liable” if the harassment was at the hands of a supervisor or if the perpetrator of the harassment was the employer. This means if the harassment was perpetrated by the victim’s supervisor, the employer is responsible for the victim’s damages regardless of whether the employer knew or should have known about the incident.

What to do if you were Sexually Harassed at Work

Victims of workplace sexual harassment in California have a right to recover monetary damages to compensate for their pain, suffering and losses.  In addition, the employer is liable for damages if they knew or should have known about the harassment and failed to take immediate and appropriate corrective action to stop it.

You may be the victim of sexual harassment if you experienced any of the following at work:

  • Sexually derogatory comments, slurs, epithets or jokes or rude gestures.
  • Unwanted sexual advances such as touching, back rubs, pats on the buttocks, pinching or “accidental” brushes against your chest or other parts of your body.
  • Unwanted sexual propositions, discussion of sexual acts or verbal sexual suggestions.
  • An offer of employment, advancement, or raises exchange for sexual favors.
  • A threat to your employment, benefits, hours, rate of pay, or otherwise threats to your employment if you don’t comply with a sexual request.
  • Loss of employment, benefits or other adverse impacts after complaining about or reporting harassment.
  • Someone displaying or “giving” to you sexually suggestive objects, pictures, cartoons or graphics.
  • Graphic comments, sexually degrading words, sexually suggestive or obscene messages or invitations, including both paper and electronic messages.
  • Someone impeding or blocking your movements.

If you believe you are the victim of sexual harassment at work, contact one of our California attorneys.  Our experienced legal team knows the law and can evaluate your case and help you understand your rights. Our lawyers are compassionate and discreet, and we empathize with victims who have suffered from the pain and embarrassment of sexual bullying.  We can explain how you may be entitled to recover damages from sexual misconduct at work or by your coworkers and/or your employer.