Ten women will split $1 million in a settlement reached this week over sexual harassment of employees at the McDonald’s in Reedsburg.
Poynette-based Missoula Mac Inc., the owner and franchisee of 25 McDonald’s, was ordered to pay the women who were harassed and carry out a number of corrective actions, according to a press release issued Wednesday by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Missoula Mac, however, no longer owns the Reedsburg McDonald’s; it sold the restaurant late last year to Lorrie Gorichs of Sauk City. She took ownership in January.
The lawsuit was initiated in April 2011 after three women who worked at the Reedsburg McDonald’s filed discrimination charges with the EEOC.
During the investigation, the EEOC determined seven more women had reported sexual harassment. The incidents allegedly had been going on since 2006.
Attempts to reach an out-of-court settlement prior to the filing of the lawsuit failed.
The EEOC lawsuit, filed on behalf of the employees, claims the women were subjected by male employees to “sexual comments, kissing, touching of their private areas and forcing their hands onto the men’s private parts.”
Some were teenage girls, still in high school.
Attorney Jeffrey Younger of the Madison-based firm of Lee, Kilkelly, Paulson & Younger, speaking on the company’s behalf, said that Missoula Mac did not dispute some of the allegations in the lawsuit.
“While the company does not dispute some of the allegations of improper workplace conduct,” he said, “the extent of such conduct was disputed. Nevertheless, Missoula Mac has concluded that the most prudent course of action is to settle this case rather than spending the time and financial resources necessary to continue to litigate the matter in court.”
In addition to paying the settlement money, U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb’s order, approved Tuesday, includes:
• Requiring the company to create an ombudsperson position responsible for monitoring, soliciting and resolving complaints of sexual harassment or retaliation.
• Establishing telephone and email hotlines for employees to report sexual harassment or retaliation.
• Evaluating its managers’ and supervisors’ performance based in part on whether their restaurants comply with anti-harassment and anti-retaliation laws and policies.
• Tracking and maintaining records of all sexual harassment and retaliation complaints.
• Implementing a comprehensive training program to enable its employees to identify sexual harassment and properly investigate internal complaints.
• Posting 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.
• Providing periodic reports to the EEOC showing it is complying with the terms of the decree.
Younger said the Reedsburg McDonald’s is not required to post the notices set forth in Crabb’s court order. However, the McDonald’s restaurants still owned by Missoula Mac are required to post the notices.
“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,” said John Hendrickson, the EEOC regional attorney in Chicago.
The EEOC suit states that when employees complained of the harassing behavior, restaurant management did nothing to avert more harassment, and even fired employees who complained.
One employee quit because of the harassment.
“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.
Younger said Friday that some of the mandated corrective actions were implemented “a long time ago.”
Younger subsequently released a written statement.
“Missoula Mac agrees that sexual harassment does not belong in the workplace,” Younger states. “The company has implemented many procedures since 2008 to deter any sexual harassment in the workplace and to encourage its employees to report any sexual harassment that occurs. The agreement with the EEOC implements additional measures toward this goal.”
Gorichs, the new owner of the Reedsburg McDonald’s, said she was unaware of the details of the lawsuit, but said her business follows the proper practices.
“I don’t even have the details about what happened,” Gorichs said. “We have our own policies.
“We are proud to be serving our customers in Reedsburg. Any proper workplace practices, we follow. A matter like that is very serious.”