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McDonald's workers say they were sexually harassed

  • McDonald's workers have filed a total of 25 claims and lawsuits alleging they were sexually harassed on the job. 
  • The accusations include groping, indecent exposure, propositions for sex and lewd comments by supervisors against workers as young as 16 years old.
  • McDonald's said it has policies in place to protect employees against sexual harassment and has enhanced those policies in the past year "to more clearly [inform] employees of their rights."

More than two dozen McDonald's workers are alleging they were sexually harassed on the job, labor advocates said Tuesday in trying to call attention to what they say is a problem routinely brushed aside by the world's largest fast-food chain.

Twenty-five complaints are being lodged against McDonald's, organizers for Fight for $15, a labor group, and a union announced Tuesday. The accusations include groping, indecent exposure, propositions for sex and lewd comments by supervisors against workers as young as 16 years old, according to the labor groups. 

The American Civil Liberties Union and the Time's Up Legal Defense Fund is supporting the latest round of complaints, which include 20 claims with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and three filed lawsuits alleging civil rights violations. 

McDonald's replied to a request for comment by emailing a copy of a letter from CEO Steve Easterbrook to "Top Chef" host and executive producer Padma Lakshmi, among those scheduled to take part in a demonstration Tuesday outside McDonald's headquarters in downtown Chicago. 

The fast-food giant last year started working with RAINN, a group devoted to curbing sexual violence, to improve conditions for employees and upgrade the company's harassment policies, Easterbrook wrote.

"We have enhanced our policy so that it more clearly informs employees of their rights, more clearly defines sexual harassment, discrimination and retaliation, and provide examples of what unacceptable behavior looks like," he stated. "It also underscores how employees can report a complaint if they do not feel comfortable addressing it with a manager."

Workers will next month be able to call a third-party managed hotline to report complaints of any kind, Easterbrook said.

After several women last year filed complaints with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging pervasive harassment at some McDonald's franchises, the company said it has "policies, procedures and training" in place to prevent sexual harassment and that "we firmly believe that our franchises share this commitment."

Presidential candidates to join protest

Although McDonald's has policies against harassment, some workers and labor watchdogs contend the company doesn't adequately enforce them.

"Year after year, worker after worker tells the same story of ineffectual response from McDonald's to serious reports of sexual harassment," Eve Cervantez, a lawyer involved in the cases against McDonald's said in a statement on Tuesday. "McDonald's can and should do better.

Bernie Sanders, Cory Booker, Julian Castro and Jay Inslee are among the presidential candidates planning to join protests by McDonald's cooks, cashier and other workers on Thursday, according to Fight for $15 and the Service Employees International Union.

Union-backed organizations have for several years been pressuring McDonald's for better working conditions, including $15 an hour wages and the right to collective bargaining.