Two McDonald's Franchisees Sued for Harassment

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (search) sued two franchisees of restaurant chain McDonald's Corp. (MCD) Thursday on behalf of teenage workers who say they were sexually harassed on the job.

The suits, one filed in federal court in New Mexico and the other in Arizona, allege that young workers were subjected to unwanted touching and other advances, and in some cases suffered retaliation for spurning those advances.

The Arizona suit, against GLC Restaurants Inc. (search) , claims a male assistant manager at a McDonald's in Cordes Junction, Arizona, touched young women in an "unwelcome sexual manner," and claims management ignored complaints about the conduct. At least one female employee was subsequently subject to work conditions so intolerable she quit, the suit said.

The EEOC alleged that the manager, in his mid-40s, was moved from store to store amid accusations of harassment. The incidents in question were alleged to have happened in 2002.

"The manager did a number of things that none of us would ever want to happen to ourselves or our children or our grandchildren," Mary Jo O'Neill, a regional attorney for the EEOC, said at a press conference in Phoenix.

She was joined by one of the alleged victims, 18-year-old Amanda Henry. "Anyone out there who has had this done to them should really speak out about this. This is not right. You need to be strong," she said.

The New Mexico suit, against operator Pand Enterprises Inc. (search) , claims young men were subjected by a male supervisor to inappropriate touching, requests for sex, and sexual remarks. At least one young man had his work hours cut in retaliation for rejecting those requests, the suit said.

The supervisor was in his mid-20s and the alleged incidents occurred in 2003, the EEOC said.

"We are here today to say, 'Enough.' We are going to vindicate the civil rights of these young people who had the courage to come forward and the support of their families," O'Neill said.

The EEOC said GLC was based in the northern Arizona city of Flagstaff and Pand was based in Gallup, New Mexico. Neither franchisee could immediately be reached for comment.

A McDonald's spokesman said he could not immediately comment on the lawsuits. Naomi Earp, vice chairman of the EEOC, said McDonald's could not be held responsible because the stores were franchised.

But she said it was still important for companies to counsel operators on proper treatment of young employees.

"It's particularly important ... that corporate America understands that their policies need to be tailored for this particular group of workers who are almost always on their first job," she said.