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Women Share Stories About Workplace Sexual Harassment at McDonald’s in CBS Report

Workers allege lewd comments, groping, and retaliation for speaking out

McDonald’s sign on the exterior of a store. Photo: 8th.creator/Shutterstock

In the past several years, former and current McDonald’s employees have increasingly come forward to share stories of the sexual harassment they allegedly experienced while working in the chain’s restaurants, In a new CBS Sunday Morning segment, four women shared their personal accounts with correspondent Erin Moriarty.

Emily Anibal, who was 17 when she started working at McDonald’s in 2016, said a male shift manager “would make comments on my body, and other workers’ bodies, saying, like, ‘I would have sex with you, I wouldn’t have sex with her.’” Anibal added that the shift manager would comment on or touch employees “pretty much every shift, for most of the shift.”

Another McDonald’s employee, Jamelia Fairley, recounted her experience of being harassed by a new coworker in 2018. Fairley reported the behavior, which she said took place in front of others and was experienced by other women, to a supervisor and the general manager. But, according to Fairley, the harassment only intensified — a retaliatory response that unfortunately appears not to be out of the norm, as Bryce Covert reported for Eater in 2020. It got to the point where Fairley’s coworker “grabbed [her] into his groin area,” she said.

She told Moriarty that the coworker was only transferred to another store after Fairley reported another incident of harassment from a different coworker. That other employee allegedly asked Fairley how much it would cost to have sex with her daughter, who was just one year old at the time. “This particular comment … really made me really upset,” Fairley said. The coworker who made that comment was fired. Fairley continued working at McDonald’s to provide for her daughter.

The women who shared their stories with CBS are among a larger number of employees who have filed discrimination charges or sexual harassment lawsuits against McDonald’s. In recent years, suits were filed in January, last April, in November 2019, and in May 2018. Per CNBC, at least 50 workers have filed sexual harassment complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or in state courts in the last four years. A union-commissioned poll in 2020 found that 76 percent of the 782 female workers surveyed said they have experienced at least one form of harassment at McDonald’s, and 71 percent said they faced punishment after reporting misconduct. (A company spokesperson disputed those numbers, telling CBS that the survey sample size is too small.)

The fast-food chain, which on February 18 announced a goal to achieve gender parity among its leadership by the end of 2030, responded to the CBS segment with the promise that every allegation be “fully and thoroughly investigated.”

“I want to recognize these individuals and acknowledge their courage. Any person who steps forward to report concerns or issues deserves our utmost respect,” CEO Chris Kempczinski wrote in a statement issued Sunday night. “Let me say plainly: every single person working under the Arches must have a safe and respectful work environment. Sexual harassment in the workplace is an affront to everything we stand for as a System. It has no place in any McDonald’s restaurant, and it will not be tolerated.”

The food service industry is notoriously rife with sexual harassment. A 2014 report from the Restaurant Opportunities Center United found that 90 percent of women in the industry have experienced sexual harassment while on the job. In fast food, the workers are often poor, often minorities, and often young — and they typically have even less recourse when it comes to sexual misconduct, compared to the celebrities or white-collar professionals whose experiences have frequently been centered in the #MeToo movement. Service workers’ stories matter, too. It shouldn’t have to take a famous name or a televised exposé to remember that.