CBS Report: Women reveal stories of sexual harrassment while working at McDonald’s

The website has green dots for McDonald's stores where a soft serve is currently working and...
The website has green dots for McDonald's stores where a soft serve is currently working and red dots where they're not.(Source: McDonald's)
Published: Feb. 28, 2021 at 8:30 PM EST
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(CBS/WVLT) - Many of the headlines about the “Me Too” movement tell stories of women who worked in ostensibly glamorous fields: the movies and the media.

Less often heard are the stories of women alleging harassment in more workaday locations. A special report that aired Sunday on CBS This Morning is helping those women tell their stories.

“He would make comments on my body and other workers’ bodies saying like ‘I wouldn’t have sex with her,’” said Emily.

“First he was like, you have nice hair, started touching my hair. Then he was like, physical - then he actually started grabbin’ my butt,” said Jamelia.

“Any woman that he could get his hands on, or be near, he was taking advantage of that moment,” Kat Barber explained.

Young women from across the country shared similar accounts of workplace abuse and harassment at one of America’s largest, most iconic fast-food restaurant chains.

“It kinda made me feel isolated. I thought I was the only one this is happening to right now. You know what I’m saying? So I just felt totally alone,” said Kimberly.

Kimberly Lawson, Jamelia Fairley, Kat Barber and Emily Anibal have all either filed discrimination charges or filed suit against McDonald’s corporate restaurants or their independently owned franchises.

Each tells a story of persistent and unwanted harassment from male co-workers.

“The tongs that we used to make food and he’d use those to like grab my breasts,” said Barber. “He didn’t try to hide it at all. It was in front of everybody.”

“It is hard to believe that in this day and age that it’s still happening this egregiously, this out in the open,” said Gillian Thomas.

Thomas is a senior attorney with the ACLU. She says hundreds of female employees have been subjected to sexual harassment at McDonald’s restaurants - as described in as many as 100 lawsuits and charges of discrimination.

“The other piece that’s especially shocking, and especially shocking at McDonald’s, which, of course, bills itself as America’s best first job, is how young the victims are-- 15, 16, 17 years old,” Thomas explained. “Fast food is, and the food service industry generally is one of the worst for sexual harassment claims.”

Last year, in a survey of nearly 800 female workers at McDonald’s restaurants and franchises, three-quarters said they were harassed at work - in that same survey, commissioned by unions -a majority said they suffered consequences for reporting the behavior.

But a company spokesman disputes the findings, saying the sample size was too small, and “not consistent with what we are seeing in McDonald’s restaurants.”

Yet, there are stories like Jamelia Fairley’s.

“After I reported my harassment they gave me 11 hours to 15 hours,” she said. “And I couldn’t work with those hours. It wasn’t enough. It wasn’t helpin’ me keep my place,” Fairley said.

In late 2018, then 24 years old and a single mom, Fairley was working at a corporate-owned Mcdonald’s in Florida when she said a new co-worker began making lewd comments and touching her.

“When he first touched me, I told him to keep his hands to himself, like ‘don’t touch me.’ He thought it was a joke, and he was doing it to other women at McDonald’s as well. I wasn’t the only one.”

Fairley reported the behavior to both a supervisor and the general manager and yet she says, that didn’t end the offensive behavior.

“It even got worse, to the point where he pushed me, like, he grabbed me into his groin area. Managers were standing there watching him do it. Like, and they didn’t do nothing about it.”

He was eventually transferred to another store she said, but not until after Fairley reported another incident with a different co-worker.

Fairley said one comment, in particular, made her the most upset.

“He, um, I’m sorry... He had asked me how much would it be to have sex with my daughter at the time and she was only one year old,” Fairley said.

That employee was fired. Fairley stayed. She said she needed the job to provide a roof over her daughter’s head.

In a new corporate video, McDonald’s new CEO said the company wants to be a leader when it comes to values.

“We do the right thing for the right reasons. I love that phrase because it hits you in the gut. Everybody knows what it means to do the right thing,” said the CEO.

In late 2019, the company did put out an extensive new policy for dealing with sexual harassment in its corporate stores. But 95% of McDonald’s are independently owned franchises and there the policy is only a “resource,” not a requirement. This is how some past franchise employees describe the sexual harassment training they received.

“My orientation was a lady, she sat across from me. She had a stack full of papers. She said we’re gonna run through this really fast,” said Kimberly Lawson.

Lawson worked at a McDonald’s franchise in Kansas City in 2017 and 2018.

“I need you to just sign and date everything so we can get this done.”

Multiple employees told CBS News that they were never aware of the harassment training.

Eve Cervantez is an employment lawyer suing McDonald’s and the franchise.

During the interview:

“He harassed, you know, every woman who was there basically,” Cervantez said.

Emily Anibal was 17-years-old when she went to work at that McDonald’s in April 2016 and encountered a shift manager by the name of Shawn Banks.

Q: “How often would he be making comments or touching somebody?”

A: “Pretty much every shift for most of the shift,” answered Emily.

Q: “Did you think you had to put up with it?”

A: “Yeah, that was the kind of environment I think that was built at that restaurant. Is that this is normal. And if you don’t like it, then you can leave.”

She finally did leave in the spring of 2017. Five months later when Kat Barber, then 18, starting working there. Banks was still a manager.

“He used to call me b****, a c****. He used to call me ugly. I was fat,’” said Barber. “I told him to stop. If anything, it would make him persist more.”

Barber says she reported the behavior to the general manager.

“I normally would either get a laugh-get told that I was being dramatic.”

In September, 2018, she too quit her job.

“It was way too much to watch not only others get sexually harassed, but also get myself get sexually harassed. It was causing such an impact in my life personally. Even when I was looking for new work I was having anxiety about whether someone at that work was gonna be sexually harassing me.”

Shawn Banks did not respond to CBS’ request for an interview. The owner of the franchise - through an attorney - declined to answer written questions.

“The problem is not just that you have a harasser, it’s that you have a harasser who is not being stopped.”

After Anibal and Barber, along with several other women, filed suit, the franchise owner sold its stores.

In its statement to CBS, McDonald’s said that it “makes training available to its franchisees” and has “made a hotline available for all franchisees to provide to their employees.”

If McDonald’s is held liable in the cases filed by these women, the damages may not be substantial. None was making more than 14 dollars an hour.

But in a job that some see as inconsequential, Jamelia Fairley says she is finally being seen and heard.

“Do you have regret sometimes about complaining?”

“Oh. No,” said Fairley. “I have no regrets about complaining at all. I feel like I stood up for myself. I stood up for my daughter. I stood up for other women who he was bullying. I feel like I was making a difference.”

This report was originally aired on CBS This Morning. View the original report here.

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