BETHEL PARK, Pa. (KDKA/AP) - Spurred by the sexual assault of a 14-year-old girl at a Bethel Park McDonald's, workers at the fast-food joint in 12 U.S. cities walked off the job Tuesday to protest what they say is a continuing problem of sexual harassment and violence in the company's stores.
Several hundred workers were expected to participate in Chicago, Houston, Miami, Detroit and other cities, according to Fight for $15 and a Union, a labor group that organized the strikes.
This is the fifth time since 2018 that McDonald's workers have struck the company over what they say are inadequate efforts to stop sexual harassment in its stores. At least 50 workers have filed charges against McDonald's alleging verbal and physical harassment over the last five years.
In April, McDonald's announced it would require sexual harassment training, reporting procedures for complaints and annual employee surveys at its 40,000 stores worldwide starting in January 2022.
But some workers say that's not enough. They want McDonald's -- not its franchisees, who own nearly all of its U.S. stores -- to be held accountable for harassment in its restaurants.
The latest labor action was spurred by a lawsuit filed last month by a teenage McDonald's employee and her parents against McDonald's and its Bethel Park store.
"Nationwide, it has just caused a flurry of outrage. This is a prime motivation for the strikes that are going to go next day or so in 10 cities," said Alan Perer, the family's attorney, told KDKA Monday.
The employee was 14 when she was hired to work at a Pittsburgh-area McDonald's in October 2020. The employee said she received no training on sexual harassment or how to report it, even though McDonald's set up a harassment hotline and began offering that training to franchisees in 2019.
According to the lawsuit, the teenager's store hired a manager in January 2021 who had served time in prison for sexually assaulting a 10-year-old girl and was listed in Pennsylvania's sex offender registry.
The manager abused and harassed the teenager and other underage employees, but there was no investigation by store leadership or McDonald's despite their complaints to the manager who hired them. In February, the manager followed the teen into a bathroom and raped her.
The manager, Walter Garner, was arrested in April after another McDonald's employee told administrators at her school about his behavior and the school contacted the police. Garner was sentenced to up to 10 years in prison last week.
The teenager is seeking damages from McDonald's as well as from the franchisee that ran her restaurant, Bethel Park-based Rice Enterprises LLC.
In addition to its harassment training requirement -- which was announced the same month Garner was arrested -- McDonald's said it expects franchisees to conduct thorough investigations when allegations arise.
"Every single person working at a McDonald's restaurant deserves to feel safe and respected when they come to work, and sexual harassment and assault have no place in any McDonald's restaurant," the company said Tuesday in a statement.
In a statement provided by her attorney, Rice Enterprises CEO Michele Rice said the allegations made in the teen's lawsuit are "deeply disturbing" and the employee was fired as soon as she heard about the complaints against him.
"We have fully cooperated with the police and have offered our full support to the impacted employee," Rice said in the statement.
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