Workplace

‘I felt trapped’: McDonald’s employee speaks out about sex harassment amid strike

Kimberly Lawson felt trapped when a shift manager at the McDonald’s location where she worked started hitting on her, making lewd comments and telling her to leave her boyfriend, she told a crowd gathered to protest the fast food giant Tuesday.

“Because he was a manager, I felt trapped,” Lawson, 25, said. “I felt like I had no choice but to tolerate it. Though I rejected his advances as politely as I could, over and over again, they persisted.”

Lawson said the manager made comments about her body and made her feel uncomfortable. A co-worker did the same and groped her, she said. Lawson says she reported her coworker but management failed to act.

“So I didn’t even bother to report the manager because it was like — what’s the point? They’re not doing anything,” Lawson said in an interview.

Inspired by the #MeToo movement, Lawson and at least 150 other protesters gathered outside a McDonald’s at Troost Avenue and Meyer Boulevard on Tuesday, demanding the employer pay attention to claims of sexual harassment in the workplace and pushing for the formation of a union to represent workers.

Kansas City employees went on what organizers called a one-day strike against the company along with workers in other cities across the country where employees have filed sex discrimination charges with the federal government against the company.

McDonald’s corporate office reported no walkouts as of Tuesday evening, however, and said in a statement is has strong policies, procedures and training designed to prevent harassment.

“To ensure we are doing all that can be done, we have engaged experts in the areas of prevention and response including, (the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), to evolve our policies so everyone who works at McDonald’s does so in a secure environment every day,” the company said.

After her alleged harassment, Lawson said she moved to a new McDonald’s location. In May, she filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging McDonald’s created a hostile work environment by failing to address issues of sexual harassment.

She and employees in nine other cities got assistance from the TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund, launched by the National Women’s Law Center after the #MeToo movement began with allegations of sexual assault against Hollywood film mogul Harvey Weinstein.

“Courageous women have spoken up in the #MeToo and Time’s Up Movement,” said Missouri state Rep. Judy Morgan, D-Kansas City, a retired teacher and union president. “However, virtually all of the men who have so far been exposed for sexual harassment have worked in industries like Hollywood, the media and politics. But we know sexual harassment exists in all jobs and is even more prevalent among low-wage workers.”

Morgan, who spoke at the rally, said those men and companies must also be held accountable.

Protesters on Tuesday offered support for a union to represent fast food workers, saying being united would help them fight for better treatment by the company. Kansas City Councilwoman Jolie Justus urged protesters to keep speaking out so their stories become a communal story.

“And soon our voices are so loud that they can no longer ignore us,” Justus said.

More than 40 percent of women who work in non-managerial positions in fast food have experienced sexual harassment, according to a survey of more than 1,200 women conducted by Washington-based Hart Research Associates.

The report says more than 40 percent of women who had experienced harassment felt they had to put up with it because they couldn’t risk losing their jobs. Among women who raised the issue, 20 percent experienced some form of negative repercussion, including having their hours cut, getting a less desirable schedule, being denied a raise or promotion, getting additional duties, having to transfer to another store or being fired.

Working at McDonald’s and making $9 an hour is already tough enough, Lawson said.

“Survival for me and my daughter is a daily challenge,” Lawson said. “I should not have heaped upon all that the heavy stress of sexual harassment. No woman should.”

She said it was a difficult decision to file the charge against McDonald’s, but she wanted to set an example for her daughter by standing up for herself.

“If I’m not standing up for myself, I can’t teach her to stand up for herself,” Lawson said.

Lawson said in a statement she did not fear repercussions for not going to work Tuesday because she has a right to strike.

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