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SEXUAL HARASSMENT AGAINST WOMEN WORKERS IN THE FOOD SERVICES INDUSTRY IS A SERIOUS AND PERVASIVE PROBLEM

A survey conducted this past January by the nonprofit Stop Street Harassment found that 81% of women had experienced some form of sexual harassment during their lifetime. Given this troubling statistic, it is not surprising that a recent series of twenty-five sexual harassment complaints have been filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) against McDonald’s Corporation. These complaints allege the sexual harassment of female employees by male coworkers and managers. In response to these filings McDonald’s CEO released a statement on May 19, 2019, committing the company to “ensuring a harassment and bias-free workplace” for its employees. Although these words may read well on paper, it does little to explain why most of the claims of sexual harassment filed against the corporation also allege retaliation after the victims reported the sexual harassment to their supervisors.

By far claims of sexual harassment in the food service industry are not limited to McDonald’s. According to a report released by the National Women’s Law Center, the accommodations and food services industries are among the highest-ranking industries for total number of sexual harassment charges filed. The report also indicates that more than one in three women who filed such charges against their employers also alleged retaliation by their employers for doing so; a circumstance well familiar to a McDonald’s employee named Jamelia Fairley.

In September 2016, Jamelia Fairley began working for a McDonald’s store in Florida as a crew member. In her EEOC complaint filed against McDonald’s Corporation, Fairley alleges that she endured constant sexual jokes and remarks directed at her as well as at her young daughter who worked there as well. She also endured unwanted touching, groping, and physical contact at the workplace. Her complaint alleges that when she reported this harassment to her store manager, her work hours were reduced from about 25 hours per week to about 7-8 hours per week.

Advocacy groups fear this is a dangerous pattern with serious implications for employees throughout the nation. In a statement released for the TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund, Director Sharyn Tejani notes, “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.” Because cases of harassment and retaliation are rampant nationwide, the EEOC and other advocacy groups are bringing these claims to court as Civil Rights Act violations. Fortunately, here in New Jersey our liberally interpreted Law Against Discrimination (LAD) provides a clear reflection of our State’s strong public policy of eradicating the scourge of sexual harassment and other forms of discrimination from the workplace.

Retaliation against employees is expressly prohibited under the LAD in the State of New Jersey. N.J.S.A., 10:5-12. The LAD provides broad protection against retaliation to promote and protect the underlying anti-discriminatory policies of the LAD. Quinlan v. Curtiss-Wright Corp., 204 N.J. 239 (2010). Protected activities include opposing practices such as complaining about discrimination in the workplace and filing a complaint or testifying or assisting in a proceeding under the LAD. N.J.S.A., 10:5-12(d). An adverse employment action may include, but is not limited to, an employee being discharged, demoted, not promoted, or disciplined. Nardello v. Twp. Of Voorhees, 337 N.J. Super. 428 (App. Div. 2005). Additionally, minor instances of behavior directed at an employee who reported inappropriate conduct may add up to create a pattern of retaliatory behavior over time. Id. at 433. Therefore, if an employee’s hours are significantly reduced for no reason after making a complaint of discrimination in the workplace and the employee can demonstrate that this reduction is causally linked to his or her complaint about workplace harassment, there may be a case of retaliation against the employee by the employer.

At Mashel Law LLC, we are well experienced in handling sexual harassment and other forms of LAD claims. If you believe you have been the victim of sexual harassment and/or have suffered retaliation for having reported same, call the attorneys at Mashel Law (732) 536-6161 or fill out the contact form on this page for immediate help in assessing whether you have an actionable claim against your employer. At Mashel Law, LLC, located in Marlboro, New Jersey, we are dedicated to protecting the rights of employees.