McDonald’s Sues Ex-CEO, Exposing Toxic Culture of Sexual Harassment

McDonald’s Sues ex-CEO, Exposing the Prevalence of Sexual Harassment
The mounting allegations against former McDonald’s CEO Steve Easterbrook is just the latest development demonstrating how McDonald’s has historically failed to address sexual harassment at all levels of the company. (Mike Mozart / Flickr)

Former CEO Steve Easterbrook was fired from McDonald’s last year for failing to disclose a consensual sexual relationship with a subordinate. Now, McDonald’s has sued Easterbrook for the severance pay provided to him, estimated at $40 million, alleging Easterbook knowingly shielded information from investigators about three other sexual relationships he had with employees.

The legal documents state Easterbrook “approved an extraordinary stock grant, worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, for one of those employees in the midst of their sexual relationship.” McDonald’s argues it would not have provided Easterbrook with severance pay were these details disclosed to investigators.

Unfortunately, this is not the only experience McDonald’s has with exploitative relationships. This case exposes the reality that sexual harassment is prevalent throughout McDonald’s locations.

A poll by ALG Research released in May found that 76 percent of non-managerial female McDonald’s workers have been sexually harassed.

Of those women, 50 percent report having received sexual comments; 34 percent report unwanted touching, groping or fondling; and 12 percent were sexually assaulted or raped.

These distressing statistics reveal just how pervasive sexual harassment is at McDonald’s and throughout the wider fast food industry:

  • 50 percent of women workers have been subjected to sexual comments;
  • 50 percent faced sexually suggestive looks or gestures;
  • 30 percent were shown or received unwanted explicit images;
  • 29 percent of women have had sex requested of them; and
  • 22 percent were offered benefits relating to their work in exchange for a date or sexual favors.

The perpetrators are most often coworkers and costumers, and 14 percent report facing harassment from managers. And most women do not face only a single type of harassment—with 66 percent of respondents reporting more than one kind and 25 percent reporting eight or more.

While the face of #MeToo is overwhelmingly middle class, working class women lead the fight. However, just speaking up puts them at risk of economic or social retaliation.

Seventy-one percent of women who reported their sexual harassment at McDonald’s faced backlash, and 42 percent lost income as a consequence of speaking up. And while 44 percent of white women did not face retaliation, only 26 percent of African American women can say the same.

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Additionally, McDonald’s is also facing a $500 million dollar sexual harassment lawsuit in Florida. Historically, McDonald’s has claimed they are not responsible for harassment experienced at independently-owned restaurants. But, this lawsuit involves only franchise restaurants, holding McDonald’s directly accountable.

In fact, the ALG poll demonstrates sexual harassment is more pervasive at McDonald’s franchise restaurants than independent restaurants: 83 percent of women workers at McDonald’s experienced sexual harassment at franchise-owned restaurants, while 71 percent of those at independently-owned restaurants reported harassment.

McDonald’s Sues Ex-CEO, Exposing Toxic Culture of Sexual Harassment
(ALG Research)

In a message to employees, current CEO Chris Kempczinski made clear that behavior like Easterbrook’s would not be tolerated. But for now, sexual harassment is a grave part of work for women at McDonald’s, especially in restaurants owned by the franchise.

The mounting allegations against Easterbrook is just the latest development demonstrating how McDonald’s has historically failed to address sexual harassment at all levels of the company.


Audrey Andrews is a Ph.D. student in anthropology at the University of Nevada, Reno. She is an archaeologist, runner and feminist. Audrey graduated from Columbia University.