Two former employees of a McDonald’s in Queens, New York have filed suit for alleged race discrimination and sexual harassment. Harris, et al v. McDonald’s Corp., et al, No. 1:14-cv-04256, am. complaint (E.D.N.Y., Jul. 22, 2014). They claim that a supervisor subjected them to a hostile work environment with racially and sexually derogatory remarks, unconsented groping and touching, and other unlawful conduct. The defendants, they allege, failed to take reasonable measures to protect them from unlawful discrimination and harassment.
The plaintiffs were longtime McDonald’s employees. Vanessa Harris states that she worked for the company for eight years, while Kimberly Mealer started working there in 1997. Both had reached the level of assistant manager at the McDonald’s on Sutphin Boulevard in Jamaica, Queens, when the events giving rise to the lawsuit allegedly occurred. Both plaintiffs are African-American. Michael Lauria, the supervisor accused of sexual harassment and race discrimination, began working at the Sutphin Boulevard location in August 2010 as a department manager. Harris was working at that location at the time, and Mealer was transferred to the Sutphin location in March 2011. Lauria was promoted to restaurant manager in November 2010.
The harassment began almost as soon as Lauria began working at the Sutphin restaurant, according to the plaintiffs’ complaint. His behavior included routinely referring to restaurant employees with racially derogatory and unprintable names, and remarking that the restaurant was “hotter than Africa.” Harris, am. complaint at 5. By the time Mealer began working at the Sutphin restaurant, the plaintiffs claim, complaints about Lauria’s behavior were known to his superiors.
Lauria allegedly sent sexually explicit and racially offensive text messages to the plaintiffs, touched them inappropriately, and made inappropriate sexual remarks to both of them. The plaintiffs objected to this conduct, but they claim Lauria persisted. They also state that they complained to Lauria’s superiors, but that neither they nor anyone else in the company took action to address the plaintiffs’ complaints.
Harris had to take medical leave in early 2012 for “severe emotional and physical distress and anxiety” because of the hostile work environment. Id. at 7. She claims that she was forced to resign in June 2012 because of the situation at the Sutphin restaurant. Mealer alleges that the defendants terminated her employment in retaliation “for objecting to Mr. Lauria’s unlawful conduct and the sexually and racially hostile work environment.” Id. at 15.
The lawsuit identifies two companies and individuals as defendants. McDonald’s Corporation owns and manages the global McDonald’s brand, and McDonald’s Restaurants of New York, Inc. operates the Sutphin location. The plaintiffs allege that both companies own and operate the restaurant. The complaint also names as defendants Lauria and the supervisor responsible for overseeing the Sutphin location during the relevant time period.
The plaintiffs bring claims against the two corporate defendants for sexual harassment, race discrimination, hostile work environment, retaliation, and constructive termination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., the New York State Human Rights Law, N.Y. Exec. L. § 290 et seq., and the New York City Human Rights Law, N.Y.C. Admin. Code § 8-101 et seq. They are also asserting causes of action against the two individual defendants for aiding and abetting employment discrimination under all three statutes.
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