A group of former McDonald’s workers from Virginia are suing their stores for racial discrimination and sexual harassment — and they’re taking the rare step of naming the world’s foremost fast-food company as a defendant in the suit.
The 10 plaintiffs — nine of whom are African-American, and one of whom is Hispanic — say they were wrongfully fired last year and replaced with mostly white workers because their managers believed there had been “too many black people [working] in the store.” The lawsuit (viewable here) alleges that women were harassed and groped and that minorities were subjected to racist taunts. It also claims that managers referred to one restaurant as “the ghetto store.”
Although it’s usually just franchisees that are sued under discrimination claims, in this case the plaintiffs are arguing that McDonald’s itself should be held responsible for the actions inside a franchised store. They say the fast-food giant should have to pay damages because it sets companywide policies and has the power to enforce them.
Until now, that generally hasn’t been the case. But that could be changing on some fronts. The NLRB’s general counsel, for instance, has named McDonald’s as a “joint employer” alongside several of its franchisees accused of violating labor law during the fast-food strikes. If the agency were to view the workers as employed under one big umbrella — rather than by hundreds or thousands of individual franchisees — it would be much easier for the workers to unionize en masse. As it is, the fact that McDonald’s workers are technically employed by different franchisees means they would have to be unionized store by individual store.
Several lawsuits currently seek to hold McDonald’s responsible for wage theft allegedly committed by its franchisees. As with the discrimination complaint in Virginia, the plaintiffs in those suits argue that McDonald’s ultimately exerts control over the operations inside individual stores, and that it should be held accountable when the law is broken.