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McDonald’s Employees File Lawsuit Claiming Company Didn’t Protect Them From Workplace Violence

A worker alleged a manager told her to throw deep-frier oil at customers if she felt threatened

The outside of a business building with windows and the words “McDonald’s.”
McDonald’s headquarters in Chicago.
Barry Brecheisen/Eater Chicago

Seventeen employees working at 13 Chicago-area McDonald’s restaurants are plaintiffs in a lawsuit alleging the fast-food giant — and a dozen franchisees — did little to protect them from “physical and psychological harm from the violence they experienced while working at McDonald’s restaurants.” The suit, filed in state court in Cook County, claims managers refused to intervene to protect workers, mocked subordinates, and in some cases refused to call police during or after a crime. Fight for $15, a workers-rights advocacy group, filed the lawsuit on Thursday.

The lawsuit details a series of incidents that took place at a McDonald’s location in Chicago’s Roseland neighborhood. A trio of employees at the restaurant claimed the location lowered its counters in April 2018 which allowed customers to climb over or on top of the counter to attack workers. In addition, the workers alleged that they are regularly threatened verbally by customers, and in one case a customer waved a gun at employees. A manager allegedly told one of the workers that she should throw hot oil from the fryer at customers if she felt threatened.

A recent alleged incident took place on an early November morning at Chicago’s Union Station McDonald’s location. A male customer allegedly brandished a gun and threatened to kill a female worker, according to the lawsuit. He left but then returned to scream at the woman and her coworkers: “The man was eventually arrested, but [the employee] was never interviewed by the restaurant’s management about the incident,” according to the lawsuit.

Meanwhile, a worker at a West Side location claimed a customer pepper sprayed her in January or February. She couldn’t breathe, according to the lawsuit, but “the restaurant manager was present, but did not call the police.”

The lawsuit includes other stories from employees working at 11 McDonald’s in Chicago and two suburban locations, some in “high-crime” areas. Other incidents include a worker finding a corpse “and large amounts of blood” inside a bathroom in January or February at a West Side location, multiple threats of gun violence, and additional fights between customers and workers. One incident describes an UberEats driver who yelled at a worker after he was asked to get up from a table. According to the lawsuit, he followed her inside while she cleaned a bathroom to yell at her inside and another customer joined in the verbal abuse.

Half an hour after that episode, “someone called the restaurant and said that they would come and kill everyone in the store. The manager did not call police. The customer returned the next day and laughed at [the employee] in a taunting manner,” according to the lawsuit.

Chicago 911 dispatch centers receive about 20 calls per day from McDonald’s restaurants, according to the lawsuit. The Tribune — which first reported the story — reported 70 percent of Chicago-area McDonald’s are open 24 hours a day.

Late-night hours are among the criticisms levied in the lawsuit, which “increase the risk of violence.” Lawyers also listed “the unsafe physical design of McDonald’s stores; the lack of adequate training for managers and line workers on safety and security issues; and the implementation of other inadequate security policies.”

Besides the low counters, the lawsuit mentions insecure drive-thru windows where customers can climb through and visibility issues (the lawsuit cites experts who recommend that cashier and drive-thru areas should be visible to passers-by and not blocked by promo posters) where safety could be improved: “McDonald’s ignored expert recommendations and research regarding barriers between workers and customers,” the lawsuit stated.

The Trib noted the workers are backed by workers-rights group Fight for $15. Chicago’s minimum wage is a hot topic of late for fast-food workers and other restaurants. The lawsuit demands $50,000 in damages per plaintiff and for McDonald’s to modify its restaurant design to improve safety. That could snarl the company’s modernization plan, revealed last year when its new West Loop headquarters opened.

A McDonald’s spokesperson pointed out that the company has a training program for workers that includes a “mitigating workplace violence” module. The company announced the program in August and trainings started in October. The lawsuit acknowledged the program but stated none of its plaintiffs have so far received training.

The McDonald’s spokesperson provided the following statement from the company:

“McDonald’s takes seriously its responsibility to provide and foster a safe working environment for our employees, and along with our franchisees, continue to make investments in training programs that uphold safe environments for customers and crew members. In addition to training, McDonald’s maintains stringent policies against violence in our restaurants.”

A hearing date has been set for March 20.


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