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McDonald’s Must Face $500 Million Sexual-Harassment Lawsuit (1)

July 20, 2021, 6:59 PMUpdated: July 20, 2021, 7:12 PM

McDonald’s Corp. must face Florida restaurant workers’ allegations that the company is liable for sexual harassment and discrimination at one of its locations, the Northern District of Illinois said Tuesday.

Two female employees of a Sanford, Fla., McDonald’s restaurant said they worked in a “discriminatory, sexually charged, and hostile work environment.”

The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois denied the company’s motion to dismiss, saying the employees’ allegations identified specific incidents, which put the company on fair notice.

The employees, Jamelia Fairley and Ashley Reddick, allege the company is liable for its failure to prevent and remediate acts of sexual harassment, retaliation, discrimination, and civil rights violations that they noted in their complaint.

“McDonald’s workers throughout Florida have reported that they were sexually harassed and that McDonald’s failed to prevent or remediate the harassment,” Judge Franklin U. Valderrama said in the opinion.

The company didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

The plaintiffs have asked the court to award at least $100,000 in damages to each woman in the would-be class “for the harassment and hostile work environment” they endured. Their amended complaint said “for the female workers at the roughly 100 McDonald’s corporate-owned Florida restaurants, that adds up to over $500 million in compensatory damages.”

Fairley alleged two male co-workers physically and verbally harassed her for the duration of their employment there. A shift manager witnessed but didn’t report their behavior.

According to Fairley, she reported the harassment to other shift managers and the restaurant’s general manager. Shift managers talked to the two co-workers, but initially didn’t take steps to prevent or stop their behavior. One of the male workers confessed to the harassment and was fired. An operations consultant asked the other for a statement, and a human resources representative concluded there wasn’t significant evidence to support Fairley’s harassment allegation.

The two men continued to confront Fairley at the restaurant, according to the court.

Reddick worked at the restaurant until 2018 and was similarly subjected to and witnessed daily harassment by a male co-worker, she said. Reddick reported the harassment to management, but the co-worker wasn’t disciplined and the harassment continued.

Reddick was fired, which she alleged was because of her harassment reports.

Fairley and Reddick filed charges of sex discrimination with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated in 2019.

The court hasn’t yet certified a class of plaintiffs in the case.

Werman Salas PC and Altshuler Berzon LLP represented the proposed class. Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan LLP represented McDonald’s.

The case is Fairley v. McDonald’s Corp., N.D. Ill., No. 1:20-cv-2273, 7/19/21.

(Updated with additional reporting throughout.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Sylvia Carignan in Washington at scarignan@bloombergindustry.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Rob Tricchinelli at rtricchinelli@bloomberglaw.com

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