Ten former employees of a Virginia-based franchise have sued McDonalds on the grounds that the company has violated their civil rights.
The lawsuit has been filed in federal court. According to the plaintiffs, McDonald’s has violated Title VII o the 1964 Civil Rights Act and has subjected the employees to rampant racial and sexual harassment. This alleged abuse has taken place at three McDonald’s restaurants in Virginia. All three are owned by Soweva Corporation.
The employees have complained that their employees have used abusive and derogatory language such as “bitch”, “dirty Mexican” and “ghetto”. The lawsuit also alleges that the managers touched female employees inappropriately and also sent them sexual pictures as well as solicited sexual relations from them. In addition, black employees were treated unfairly and were disciplined for minor infractions that while employees were allowed to get away with. Black employees were also fired after the franchisee hired more white workers.
“Being a good worker didn’t matter,” said Katrina Stanfield, one of the plaintiffs, during a Thursday conference call with reporters. “I was fired for being black.”
The employees have been facing months of racial harassment, abuse and intimidation and finally approached the local chapter of NAACP for assistance. The NAACP then coordinated with Fight for $15 labor group that has been involved in a series of nationwide strikes within the fast food industry. In addition, the Washington Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs has also joined the plaintiffs and is providing pro bono legal work.
Roderic V.O. Boggs, the Executive Director of the group has committed to supporting these workers in their efforts to hold McDonald’s responsible for its mistreatment of employees.
McDonald’s has argued that it is not responsible since franchisors do not hold enough power over their franchises to be considered joint employers and thus should not be expected to share legal responsibility. However, the civil suit argues that the company is liable for legal infarctions that have occurred at the three locations and is a joint employer.
Samuel Bagenstos, a Professor at the University of Michigan Law School and a former member of the US Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division is of the opinion that this case could prove to be quite significant in setting legal precedent as well as sending a message that franchisors are equally responsible for the actions of the people who bare their brands.