When CyCei Monae began her job as a cook and cashier at a McDonald’s in Flint, Michigan, she says she was nervous. “I was brand new, a little shy,” she said in a call with the media on Wednesday.
She hoped that she would get guidance and support from her shift manager. But instead, she alleges, she got sexually harassed. He “proved to be a predator of sexual harassment, and he sexually harassed me daily,” she said. He would rub his genitals against her and try to grab her from behind as he walked by her, she recounted. And he would make comments that he wanted to “do things” to her.
Monae says she told the general manager at her store about what was happening to her, but that nothing changed.
Then she reached her “breaking point.” One day while she was working the cash register, she said, he came up behind her and showed her a photo of his genitals on his cell phone.
“I honestly felt sick, angry, defenseless.”
She alleges that although she took the complaint straight to McDonald’s corporate staff, still nothing happened. Even so, she decided to try to stick it out because she needed the money.
But the harassment she continued to undergo “took a toll on me,” she said. “I honestly felt sick, angry, defenseless.” She eventually quit.
Monae is now taking action against her former employer. On Wednesday, McDonald’s workers announced that they are filing 15 complaints of sexual harassment against the company and its franchises with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
The workers said they had to deal with groping, lewd comments, and offers of payment for sexual favors from coworkers, often their managers.
Kristi Maisenbach, a former McDonald’s worker in California, said she had a similar experience to Monae’s. She alleges that her supervisor began harassing her from the moment she started her job as a crew member in a store in Folsom.
“Right away, the shift leader started flirting with me,” she said. Then it escalated. He rubbed his genitals against her butt, she said, and grabbed her breasts. She tried to put up with it because she needed the money to pay her bills, support her partner’s daughter, and save up to afford nursing school.
But her breaking point came when he texted her with an offer to pay her $1,000 to perform oral sex.
As with Monae, Maisenbach said that she showed the text and complained about the other behaviors to her manager, but that nothing was done. Eventually, she alleges, her harassing supervisor became hostile and her hours were cut. “It was taking a toll on me mentally,” she said. “I was constantly afraid and anxious at work.” She eventually quit.
The complaints allege that these were common experiences. The harassment victims say they told their managers and corporate staff, yet McDonald’s didn’t do anything to address it and in some cases retaliated against those who spoke up.
In a statement, McDonald’s spokeswoman Terri Hickey said, “At McDonald’s, we and our independent owner-operators share a deep commitment to the respectful treatment of everyone. There is no place for harassment and discrimination of any kind in McDonald’s restaurants or in any workplace. We take any concerns seriously and are reviewing the allegations.”
McDonald’s workers also announced that they will protest during lunchtime on Thursday in three-dozen cities to demand the company enforce its own zero-tolerance policy for sexual harassment.
Sexual harassment can be found in every industry, but is particularly rampant in the restaurant industry, which is responsible for 37 percent of all sexual harassment claims with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. A new survey released on Wednesday found that 40 percent of women who work in fast food have experienced unwanted sexual behavior at work.
Most victims of harassment don’t speak up for fear of retaliation or disbelief. That’s true in fast food as well, as the survey found that 42 percent of those who experienced it felt they had to endure it so they didn’t lose their jobs. One in five said that after they said something about the harassment their employer retaliated against them, including cutting their hours or denying them a raise.
McDonald’s workers have taken legal action against the company before. They filed seven class-action lawsuits alleging wage theft in 2014, and they filed 28 health and safety complaints with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and state agencies alleging unsafe working conditions a year later. They’ve also been part of the Fight for 15 strikes and protests against the fast food industry demanding a $15 minimum wage and the right to form a union.
Workers are now calling on McDonald’s not just to enforce its own anti-harassment policies but also to stand up as an example, given that it’s the country’s second-largest employer. “McDonald’s has a responsibility to set the standards in both the fast food industry and the economy overall,” Kendall Fells, organizing director with the Fight for $15, said on the call with media.
“McDonald’s monitors everything in its stores,” Monae said. “They should be able to make sure the women who work in the restaurants are safe too.”
This article has been updated to include a comment from McDonald’s and has been corrected with the proper spelling of CyCei Monae’s name.