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McDonald’s Workers Settle ‘Dog Diaper’ Covid Safety Lawsuit (1)

Aug. 12, 2021, 3:56 PMUpdated: Aug. 12, 2021, 8:09 PM

A McDonald’s restaurant in Oakland, Calif., has agreed to Covid-19 safety measures, including creating a worker safety committee, in a settlement with cooks and cashiers who say they were told to wear dog diapers and coffee filters instead of getting proper protective equipment to keep them safe from the virus.

The settlement announced Thursday follows a lawsuit filed by at least 25 workers and family members and a 33-day strike. Judge Richard Seabolt of Alameda County Superior Court last year granted a preliminary injunction to impose certain measures, giving the store owners time to prove the pandemic no longer posed a danger to workers.

The public nuisance lawsuit leveraged a novel legal theory typically used in land-use and environmental disputes. Such lawsuits, also raised against meatpacking plant Smithfield Foods Inc. and Amazon.com Inc., tested the premise in the public health context related to Covid-19.

Under the new agreement, the owner and managers at the Oakland franchise restaurant will meet with crew members on a worker safety committee to discuss solutions for maintaining a safe and healthy workplace, including providing sick leave and safety equipment, and conducting contact tracing.

McDonald’s workers Yamilett Hernandez, Angely Lambert, Marcos Garcia, Edgar Osoy, and Maria Orozco sued the store in June 2020, alleging the restaurant ignored the rising Covid-19 rates and its actions led to an outbreak that sickened at least 25 people.

“Last year when McDonald’s tried to treat us like dogs, we didn’t sit down or stay silent. We joined together and fought for our dignity as human beings—and we won,” Lambert said in a statement. “First, we made history by going on strike and shutting down our store for over a month. Now, we’ve made history again by winning a worker safety committee that will let us make decisions about how to keep ourselves and our customers safe.”

The settlement in Oakland follows a similar agreement stemming from a June 2020 lawsuit in Chicago, which also alleged that a store didn’t protect its workers, their family, or the public from the spreading virus.

Cook County Circuit Court Judge Eve Reilly previously imposed a preliminary injunction against the McDonald’s store in July 2020. The Chicago settlement, reached on July 27, imposes a permanent injunction against the McDonald’s store and creates a formal mechanism for employees to bring questions and concerns about Covid-19 issues.

McDonald’s USA President Joe Erlinger recently wrote a Medium post outlining the safety measures at locations across the country, which was distributed to all franchisees. The company said these policies were implemented at the Chicago location.

McDonald’s corporate said in a statement Thursday that “outlier conduct” in the alleged complaints doesn’t reflect what has broadly happened at the fast-food chain’s 14,000 U.S. locations. The company has worked with franchisees to put in place safety measures.

“With our franchisees, we’ll continue listening and taking steps to keep the well-being of hardworking crew and customers at the forefront of everything we do,” the statement said.

Littler Mendelson P.C., which represents the McDonald’s franchise in Oakland, declined to comment. Altshuler Berzon LLP represents the workers.

Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan LLP represents the Chicago store. Those workers are represented by James & Hoffman P.C., and Dowd, Bloch, Bennett, Cervone, Auerbach & Yokich LLP.

The case is Hernandez v. VES McDonald’s, Cal. Super. Ct., No. RG20064825, settlement 8/12/21.

(Updated to include comment from McDonald's corporate.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Erin Mulvaney in Washington at emulvaney@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Martha Mueller Neff at mmuellerneff@bloomberglaw.com; Jay-Anne B. Casuga at jcasuga@bloomberglaw.com

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