More than two dozen women have filed lawsuits against McDonald's or filed complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission saying they were sexually harassed while working for the fast food chain.
The charges - 25 filings in all - involve alleged incidents at McDonald's restaurants and corporate offices in 20 cities across the U.S. in which workers as young as 16 years old faced harassing behavior that included groping, indecent exposure, propositions for sex and lewd comments by supervisors.
The American Civil Liberties Union and Time's Up, an organization that strives for gender equality, supported many of the 25 workers in their filings, which were announced Tuesday, two days before McDonald's annual shareholder meeting in Dallas.
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In September 2018, McDonald's workers in 10 cities across the U.S. went on a one-day strike to protest sexual harassment about one year after accusations of sexual harassment came to light against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, which led to the #MeToo movement.
These new charges continue a multi-year effort by workers to address harassment and other workplace conditions, including higher wages, with the help of the organization The Fight for $15 and a Union.
"It's unacceptable that as the second-largest employer in the world, McDonald's (doesn't keep) workers like me safe, " said Jamelia Fairley of Sanford, Florida, who dealt with a co-worker's unwanted touching and sexually explicit comments, including asking her how much it would cost to have sex with her then-1-year-old daughter. "Every worker that puts on a McDonald's apron has a right to be treated with dignity and respect in the workplace."
In all, more than 50 charges and suits have been filed by McDonald's employees working with the organization over the last three years.
"Sexual harassment has been illegal for more than 30 years, but as the #MeToo movement has shown, it's alive and well in many sectors," said Gillian Thomas, senior staff attorney at the ACLU Women's Rights Project.
McDonald's last year began working with RAINN, an anti-sexual violence organization, to improve the workplace and update its harassment policy, CEO Steve Easterbrook said in a letter to "Top Chef" host and executive producer Padma Lakshmi, who planned to participate in a protest outside McDonald's downtown Chicago headquarters Tuesday where the workers and the organizations would formally announce the charges.
"Together, we have enhanced our policy so that it more clearly informs employees of their rights, more clearly defines sexual harassment, discrimination and retaliation, and provides examples of what unacceptable behavior looks like," Easterbrook wrote in the letter, a copy of which was provided to USA TODAY. "It also underscores how employees can report a complaint if they do not feel comfortable addressing it with a manager."
Additional manager and employee training has been and continues to be conducted, he said, and "a new third-party managed hotline for reporting complaints of any kind" will be available next month.
The EEOC charges were filed by workers in cities including Cincinnati; Chicago; Durham, North Carolina; East Haven, Connecticut; Gladwin, Michigan; Kansas City, Missouri; Los Angeles; Monterey Park, California; Myrtle Beach, South Carolina; Sacramento, California; St. Louis; and Tucson, Arizona. Workers in Chickamauga, Georgia; Williamsburg, Michigan; and Davison, Michigan filed civil lawsuits against McDonald's.
"For three years, we've been speaking out, filing charges and even going on strike to get McDonald's to confront its sexual harassment problem," said Tanya Harrell, a McDonald's worker from Gretna, Louisiana, in a statement. She said a coworker attempted to rape her in a bathroom stall at the restaurant. "But these new charges show that nothing has changed. We cannot wait any longer for action. McDonald's, it's time to sit down with the workers who help make your $6 billion in profits possible so, together, we can stamp out harassment once and for all."
The workers want McDonald's to engage in talks to enforce its zero-tolerance policy against sexual harassment and to have training for managers and employees to combat the behavior.
"McDonald's is a leader in the fast-food industry, yet lags behind when it comes to protecting the workers who make its success possible," said Eve Cervantez, an attorney who is working on the cases with the Time's Up Legal Defense Fund. "Year after year, worker after worker tells the same story of ineffectual response from McDonald's to serious reports of sexual harassment. McDonald's can and should do better."
In his letter, Easterbrook explained that McDonald's has reprinted and shipped posters containing the new policy to all 14,000 restaurants in the McDonald's system and encouraged franchisees to use this policy and provided resources. And close to 90% of all McDonald's operators and general managers have undergone training that includes identifying, addressing and preventing harassment since it was introduced last fall - with more harassment-education training planned for employees during their work shifts.
"McDonald's is committed to ensuring a harassment and bias-free workplace," he wrote.
Follow USA TODAY reporter Mike Snider on Twitter: @MikeSnider.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: McDonald's faces 25 new charges of sexual harassment in the workplace