Owner of 25 McDonald's Restaurants to Pay $1 Million in EEOC Sexual Harassment Suit

MADISON, Wis. – Missoula Mac, Inc., the owner and franchisee of 25 McDonald’s restaurants, has agreed to pay $1,000,000 and provide substantial injunctive relief to resolve a class sexual harassment lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced today.

According to the EEOC’s suit, Missoula Mac violated federal civil rights laws at its Reedsburg, Wis., McDonald’s by permitting male employees to create a hostile work environment of sexual harassment against female co-workers, some of whom were teenagers, and by retaliating against those who complained about sexual harassment.

According to the EEOC’s complaint, since at least 2006, several male employees subjected female co-workers to sexual harassment, including sexual comments, kissing, touching of their private areas, and forcing their hands onto the men’s private parts. Despite being notified of the situation, Missoula Mac failed and refused to take prompt and appropriate action to correct the harassment and the resulting hostile environment, forcing at least one of the harassed employees to quit. Further, the company fired other harassed employees after they complained repeatedly about their co-workers’ behavior. Three women previously employed at the Reedsburg McDonald’s filed discrimination charges with the EEOC that led to the lawsuit.

Sexual harassment and retaliation for complaining about it violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The EEOC filed its suit (EEOC and Dunse, Brown, and Gay v. Missoula Mac, Inc. d/b/a McDonald’s Restaurants, .No. 3:11-cv-00267-bbc) in April 2011 after first attempting to reach an out-of-court settlement through its conciliation process.

U.S. District Judge Barbara B. Crabb entered a four-year consent decree today resolving the suit. Under its terms, Missoula Mac will pay out $1 million in compensatory damages to 10 former employees who experienced sexual harassment and retaliation during their employment at the Reedsburg McDonald’s. The company will also (1) create an ombudsperson position responsible for monitoring, soliciting and resolving complaints of sexual harassment or retaliation; (2) establish telephone and e-mail hotlines for employees to report sexual harassment or retaliation; (3) evaluate its managers’ and supervisors’ performance based in part on whether their restaurants comply with anti-harassment and anti-retaliation laws and policies; (4) track and maintain records of all sexual harassment and retaliation complaints; (5) implement a comprehensive training program to enable its employees to identify sexual harassment and properly investigate internal complaints; (6) post notices at all its restaurants informing employees that it has settled a sexual harassment and retaliation lawsuit with the EEOC and publicizing some settlement terms; and (7) provide periodic reports to the EEOC showing it is complying with the terms of the decree.

“This is a sad case, demonstrating again that sexual harassment is still a challenge for women at some of our most successful, best known brands,” said John P. Rowe, district director of the Chicago District Office of the EEOC, which conducted the investigation which led to the lawsuit.

John Hendrickson, the EEOC regional attorney in Chicago, added, “The ongoing sexual harassment in Reedsburg, and the company’s refusal to stop it, devolved into a culture of oppression, retaliation and fear. Women who work in restaurants have it tough enough without having to put up with sexual harassment.”

EEOC General Counsel P. David López commented that “sexual harassment in the restaurant industry remains a problem nationwide.” López added that “harassment no longer can be accepted as simply ‘part of the culture’ of the restaurant industry.” “As seen in this case,” he stated, “many younger workers’ first experience with the workplace is in this industry and it is important that harassment of these workers not be tolerated.”

Poynette, Wis.-based Missoula Mac owns and operates 25 McDonald’s restaurants in Wisconsin. John Orr is its owner and president.

The EEOC’s litigation efforts were led by trial attorney César J. del Peral out of its Milwaukee Area Office and were supervised by Associate Regional Attorney Jean Kamp out of its Chicago District Office. The EEOC’s Chicago District office is responsible for processing charges of discrimination, administrative enforcement and the conduct of agency litigation in Wisconsin, North Dakota, Minnesota, South Dakota, Illinois and Iowa, with Area Offices in Milwaukee and Minneapolis.

The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on its website at www.eeoc.gov.