Former McDonald’s Corp workers in Virginia filed a civil rights lawsuit Thursday against the world’s largest fast-food chain and owner of the restaurants where they worked, in hopes of holding the company legally responsible for the actions of its franchisees, according to Reuters.
The Washington Post reports the lawsuit, filed this morning in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia, alleges high-ranking supervisors regularly referred to one of the branches as the “ghetto store,” and referred to black workers as “ghetto” and “ratchet.” The workers allege they endured “rampant racial and sexual harassment” by supervisors at three restaurants run by McDonald’s franchisee Michael Simon, who operates as Soweva Co.
The employees, nine of whom are African American and one of whom is Hispanic, said in the complaint that the mass firings of 17 minority staff members came in May, and store managers allegedly told them at the time that it was “too dark” in the restaurants and that they “need to get the ghetto out of the store.”
“All of a sudden, they let me go, for no other reason than I ‘didn’t fit the profile’ they wanted at the store,” Willie Betts, who was a cook at one of the McDonald’s franchises, said in a statement. “I had no idea what they meant by the ‘right profile’ until I saw everyone else that they fired as well.”
According to Reuters, Plaintiff Katrina Stanfield said one supervisor touched workers inappropriately and sent them naked photos of himself. When she complained about the discrimination and dismissals to McDonald’s corporate office, Stanfield said she received no response.
“I still don’t understand why McDonald’s did nothing,” Stanfield said.
Simon, owner of the three branches where the firings took place – and who is black – has said previously that discrimination had nothing to do with the firings, reports the Washington Post.
“I continually strive to maintain an environment in which everyone feels valued and accepted. To protect the privacy of current and past employees, I’m not at liberty to discuss issues regarding employment or termination,” Simon said in a statement to the media in May. “However, my organization has a strict policy of prohibiting any form of discrimination or harassment in hiring, termination or any other aspect of employment.”
The complaint states that Simon took over control of the three Virginia franchises in late 2013, and soon after implemented a hiring plan to bring in more white employees – which the complaint alleges prompted a supervisor at one of the locations to exclaim “now we can get rid of the n*****s and the Mexicans.”
The lawsuit names the McDonald’s corporation as a party, seizing on a ruling in July by the National Labor Relations Board that deemed the fast food company a “joint employer” that could be held liable at a corporate level for labor or wage violations at its franchise locations.
[Image via Reuters]