Updated Thursday, Jan. 22, 6:15 p.m. EST: In a statement, McDonald’s USA told The Root that it had not seen the lawsuit but would be reviewing the matter “carefully.”
“We have not seen the lawsuit, and cannot comment on its allegations, but will review the matter carefully,” the statement read. “McDonald’s has a long-standing history of embracing the diversity of employees, independent Franchisees, customers and suppliers, and discrimination is completely inconsistent with our values. McDonald’s and our independent owner-operators share a commitment to the well-being and fair treatment of all people who work in McDonald’s restaurants.”
McDonald’s is under intense scrutiny after 10 former employees filed a federal civil rights lawsuit on Thursday, claiming that they were fired in May 2014 because of their race. They allege that they were told there were “too many black people working in the store,” according to a press release.
The employees—nine black and one Hispanic, who worked at three different franchise locations in Virginia—claim that supervisors habitually called one of the branches the “ghetto store” and called the black employees “ghetto” and “ratchet.” One supervisor was also accused of sexually harassing female workers, touching them inappropriately.
“All of a sudden they let me go, for no other reason than I ‘didn’t fit the profile’ they wanted at the store,” Willie Betts, a former cook at one of the restaurants, said in a press release. “I had no idea what they meant by the ‘right profile’ until I saw everyone else that they fired as well.”
The employees say that when 17 minority staffers were fired in May, managers said that the restaurants were “too dark” and they “need to get the ghetto out of the store.” However, Mike Simon, who owns the three franchises where the cuts took place and who is black himself, has said that discrimination had nothing to do with it.
“I continually strive to maintain an environment in which everyone feels valued and accepted. To protect the privacy of current and past employees, I’m not at liberty to discuss issues regarding employment or termination,” Simon said in a statement released in May, the Washington Post notes. “However, my organization has a strict policy of prohibiting any form of discrimination or harassment in hiring, termination or any other aspect of employment.”
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit intend to hold McDonald’s Corp. accountable, even though the company has repeatedly claimed that it is not in control of the franchises.
“We asked McDonald’s corporate to help us get our jobs back, but the company told us to take our concerns to the franchisee—the same franchisee that just fired us,” one plaintiff, Pamela Marable, who was fired in May said in the release. “McDonald’s closely monitors everything we do, from the speed of the drive-through line, to the way we smile and fold customers’ bags—but when we try to tell the company that we’re facing discrimination, they ignore us and say that it’s not their problem.”
In light of that response, the workers reached out to the NAACP last year in hopes of garnering support, which they readily received.
“The treatment of these McDonald’s workers seems like it’s out of another era, but sadly the racism is a reality they are confronting today,” the Rev. Kevin Chandler, president of the Halifax County-South Boston, Va., chapter of the NAACP and vice president of the NAACP Virginia State Conference, said in the release. “The South Boston NAACP will stand with these fired workers until McDonald’s takes responsibility for the inhumane treatment these workers faced in its stores.”
Read more at the Washington Post.