Dozens of women employees across several cities have filed gender discrimination complaints against fast food chain McDonald's, demanding union rights, better hourly pay, and in some cases damages for persistent harassment and abuse they experienced at work there.
Among them is La'Ray Reed, a transgender woman who says she was harassed by coworkers and publicly groped before she was fired from her job following four months of harassment in 2015. During her time at McDonald's she said she was barred from using both the men's and women's bathrooms, and forced to use a separate "filthy, unused" bathroom that was being used as a broom closet. Her legal complaint says coworkers asked her what sexual positions she performed, and taunted her constantly based on her gender identity.
After repeatedly rebuffing questions and comments -- including being called "boy-slash-girl" by managers -- she was fired after reporting discrimination and harassment by her amanagers and coworkers. When she was called in to collect her final paycheck, Reed said the the store manager asked her, "You think I don't know what you are because of how you dress and look?" After signing some forms, she received her last paycheck for 16 cents.
"As a direct and proximate result of the sexual harassment, disparate treatment based on her sex, and retaliation," the complaint reads, "Ms. Reed suffered severe mental and emotional trauma and emotional distress, causing her to contemplate suicide and require treatment."
The suit names both McDonald's and Jon Campbell, the franchise owner of the location where she was employed.
Vox reports that McDonald's lawyers say the company is not responsible for working conditions at every independently owned McDonald's franchise. That responsibility is currently being discussed in court as the Trump administration recently revoked an Obama-era policy that companies share responsibilities of protecting employees of franchises, according to BuzzFeed.
The TIME'S UP Legal Defense Fund backed 10 women last year with complaints against McDonald's, prompting hundreds more to participate in a strike against sexual harassment in their workplaces. A year later, this new group of women have stepped forward with complaints of harassment and retaliation, according to TIME'S UP.
"It's a brutal reality across the fast food industry that at least one in four workers--especially women of color working low-wage jobs--experience sexual harassment as a routine part of their job," Sharyn Tejani, director of the TIME'S UP Legal Defense Fund, said in a statement. "Every day, workers are forced to choose between getting a paycheck or speaking up about their abuse. When they report harassment, workers are often fired or have their shifts cut--and since nothing is done to stop it, the scourge continues. Few women working low-wage jobs have the financial security to challenge their harassment. By funding the legal representation of several workers at McDonald's, we see potential for these charges to be a catalyst for significant change."