The EEOC filed suit against Del Taco due to sexual harassment complaints from "young female employees." They claim that at least three male supervisors harassed the young women. The female employees filed complaints and faced retaliation instead of relief.
On September 18, McDonald's employees in 10 cities will walk out in protest against the working conditions and sexual harassment. This stems from a May, 10, action where women and girls filed EEOC complaints against McDonald's saying they had been sexually harassed at work. The EEOC has not opted to take up the case against McDonald's at this point, but that doesn't mean they won't. The EEOC tends to take its time before making a decision on which cases to take.
Last week, the National Labor Relations Board issued a new ruling (open to comment right now) that said they were returning to the 2015 standard of joint employer status. This means that it's less likely that an employee suing a Del Taco or McDonald's franchise will be able to access the deep pockets of the corporation, even if they win.
Why so many fast food lawsuits?
With the McDonald's case, the lawsuits are coordinated by The Fight for $15 and TIME'S UP Legal Defense Fund, while it appears that Del Taco employees themselves brought the case to the EEOC. The coordination of an outside group makes sense because often people in their first job are both unaware of their rights at work, and don't have the financial resources to risk retaliation.
While retaliation for filing a sexual harassment claim is illegal in the United States, it happens with frequency. Partially because supervisors are also untrained and don't understand that they are violating the laws, and partially because people who are willing to break the law by sexually harassing someone aren't all that concerned about following the laws regarding retaliation.
As of 2013, 60 percent of McDonald's employees were under 25, with 30 percent being teenagers. How much did you know about your rights at work when you were a teenager?
Young employees lead to young supervisors who, perhaps, haven't been properly trained. Although, of course, we have plenty of examples of much older people who sexually harass employees. Regardless of the reason or training, one thing they all have in common: they think they can get away with it.
The responses from Del Taco and McDonald's
Both restaurants made strong statements regarding these lawsuits.
"Del Taco takes this matter very seriously and we are currently investigating the allegations that have been brought to our attention. Based on the findings of that investigation, we will take action as appropriate. Del Taco is committed to providing a safe environment for all employees and customers, free from harassment of any kind."
"There is no place for harassment or discrimination of any kind at McDonald's. Since our founding, we've been committed to a culture that fosters the respectful treatment of everyone. We have policies, procedures and training in place that are specifically designed to prevent sexual harassment at our company and company-owned restaurants, and we firmly believe that our franchisees share this commitment."
While it's clear that both businesses have policies prohibiting harassment, it's not clear that these policies carry down to the day to day operations, and the claims against Del Taco also include retaliation after employees brought the harassment to the attention of Human Resources.
It's important to remind everyone that whether your an experienced executive or working in your very first job, sexual harassment is illegal and should always be reported. And retaliation against someone who makes a complaint is always illegal. Train your supervisors, regularly. Train your HR managers to always take every complaint seriously. Every complaint needs to be thoroughly investigated.
We'll see how these lawsuits play out. As always, there are at minimum two sides to every story,and we only have the one side at this point, but it's not outside the realm of possibility to think that young women face harassment at either restaurant.