It turns out McDonald’s has a sexual harassment problem on top of its minimum wage fight

As if the working conditions and pay weren’t bad enough, thousands of McDonald’s employees are protesting sexual harassment claims Thursday. There are hundreds of gross stories about women (getting paid a minimum wage, no less) being groped, propositioned, and even offered money to perform oral sex while wearing the McDonald’s uniform and shoveling fries and nuggets through a drive-thru window. But get this: McDonald’s might have a legal right to ignore their claims.

There are 15 complaints in eight states (California, Michigan, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Illinois, Missouri, Florida, and New York), but fourteen of them are franchise locations and only one occurred at a corporate store. McDonald’s business model protects the company.

McDonald’s employees, with the help of Fight For $15, have submitted complaints to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), but it’s up to that organization to say whether corporate McDonald’s is responsible for the harassment, even though it’s listed as a joint employer along with the franchise owner. It’s a totally gross legal loophole if McDonald’s doesn’t have to speak to this. Currently, there is a case in front of the National Labor Relations Board trying to fight for McDonald’s to be held responsible for violations of labor laws in its franchise stores, but nothing’s been done yet. McDonald’s is using a legal loophole — like rich white dudes use the tax code — to get out of something it doesn’t want to deal with.

The fifteen complaints aren’t just fifteen instances of harassment, either. They all include consistent, reoccurring harassment. Like when a manager in Milwaukee, Wisconsin allegedly leaned over an employee when she bent over “so his genitals were pressed against her or in her face” when she looked up. That complaint also includes lewd comments. Another worker in California alleges that her supervisor grabbed her breasts on several occasions and “would intentionally rub his genitals against [her] butt.” He also sent her a text offering her $1,000 for a blowjob, according to The Guardian, which was the first to report on these complaints and Thursday’s protests.

Women put up with this shit all the time. Last year, 37 percent of the total 6,822 sexual harassment complaints filed to the EEOC were from female restaurant employees. Harassment is obviously widespread and systemic in the industry, and punishing people for it should be easy. Nope.

When the women went to their general managers to complain, nothing happened. Some had their hours reduced or quit. When the women went up the ladder to HQ, McDonald’s proper did nothing, according to the womenOfficially, McDonald’s has a zero tolerance policy for sexual harassment. McDonald’s spokeswoman Terri Hickey said in a statement to The Guardian:

“At McDonald’s, we and our independent owner-operators share a deep commitment to the respectful treatment of everyone. There is no place for harassment and discrimination of any kind in McDonald’s restaurants or in any workplace. We take any concerns seriously and are reviewing the allegations.”

One of the complainants noted the irony of corporate’s laid back “review” of the allegations, telling The Guardian, “McDonald’s monitors everything we do — from how fast the drive-thru is moving, to how we fold our customers’ bags.” But when she filed a complaint against her shift manager for repeatedly sexually harassing her with gross comments about her body and a dick pic, the company allegedly didn’t do a goddamn thing.

On Thursday, McDonald’s workers are protesting in 30 cities. Which is good, but let’s break this down: women were getting rubbed up on while getting paid around $8.50 an hour and wearing a corporate uniform (as an ex-retail employee, having to wear a polyester shirt always made putting up with BS worse).

That means their rent, groceries, childcare, gas money, all of it, is hanging precariously over the abyss of poverty by a soggy ass french fry, because no one chooses to work at McDonald’s if they don’t need the cash. When your boss rubs his balls on you while you’re bending over to grab the sanitizer under the sink during a shift and you’re making less than $10 an hour wearing a branded baseball hat, you don’t really get to protest without losing money.

Until the EEOC says corporate McDonald’s is legally responsible for shit that happens in its franchise stores, the workers have to complain individually, protest, and take matters into their own hands. If the employees were in a union, this would all be different. They could bargain for a better living wage or have a better process to complain about their nasty shift managers. But attempts for fast food workers to organize have all failed due to pushback from corporations, including Mickey D’s.

Employees should also protest in front of the EEOC and force it to hold corporations responsible, because it’s just shameful. But, McDonald’s is obviously powerful enough to ignore the initial claims of harassment and has the balls to fight a case declaring it can’t be held responsible for other violations of workers’ rights at its franchise stores. Something tells the cynic in me nothing is changing anytime soon.