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McDonald’s Hit With Suit Over Covid-19 Infections in Oakland (1)

June 16, 2020, 7:13 PMUpdated: June 17, 2020, 4:22 PM

A McDonald’s franchisee was hit with a public nuisance lawsuit Tuesday by workers at an Oakland, Calif., location who say the owners’ “cold-hearted economic decision” to ignore rising Covid-19 infections led to an outbreak that resulted in 25 cases, including one in a 10-month-old baby.

Four individuals filed the suit against VES McDonald’s and its management, Valerie and Michael Smith. Three of the plaintiffs say they unknowingly spread the disease to family and other community members thanks to the company’s policies. The fourth is the infant son of an employee.

“Those in a position of authority in workplaces comprised of essential workers from this hard-hit population have an obligation to implement effective measures to contain the spread of this highly infectious, deadly virus and not, as here, to be criminally lax and thereby facilitate its spread,” attorneys for the plaintiffs wrote in the 30-page complaint.

The lawsuit comes a month after McDonald’s Corp. was sued in Chicago by a handful of workers who said the fast food giant failed to keep them and others safe while working throughout the ongoing pandemic.

In the Oakland lawsuit, the plaintiffs say the “rampant spread” among them and their families is “directly attributable” to the defendants’ decision to ignore the rising rates of infection and to enact policies that flout public health orders. The plaintiffs seek a temporary restraining order to require the defendants to comply with minimum recommendations on Covid-19.

Causes of Action: Public nuisance, unfair and unlawful business practices, Oakland Emergency Paid Sick Leave Ordinance, Oakland Paid Sick Leave Ordinance, declaratory judgment.

Relief: Preliminary and permanent injunctive relief, declaration that defendants committed a public nuisance, damages, restitution, penalties, and attorney’s fees.

Response: The allegations raised in the complaint “do not represent the high standards and reality” the crew faces, according to Michael Smith, the owner and operator of multiple McDonald’s locations.

“We are closely monitoring and complying with the guidance from the CDC and all state and local orders, including sick pay and PPE requirements,” Smith told Bloomberg Law in an email. “The use of PPE in our restaurant, including masks and gloves, is absolutely mandatory and has been provided to our crew members.”

Attorneys: The plaintiffs are represented by Altshuler Berzon LLP. Counsel information for defendants wasn’t immediately available.

The case is Hernandez v. VES McDonald’s, Cal. Super. Ct., No. ---, complaint 6/16/20.

(Updated to include response from owner.)

To contact the reporter on this story: David McAfee in Los Angeles at dmcAfee@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rob Tricchinelli at rtricchinelli@bloomberglaw.com; Nicholas Datlowe at ndatlowe@bloomberglaw.com