CHICAGO — A group of restaurant workers have sued McDonald’s and several Chicago franchisees for allegedly allowing their restaurants to be too violent and dangerous.
In a complaint filed Nov. 21 in Cook County Circuit Court, 17 named plaintiffs alleged they “suffered physical and psychological harm from the violence they experienced while working at McDonald’s restaurants.” The workers cited examples such as a customer jumping over a counter and threatening employees with a gun; customers disrobing; assault such as throwing kitchen equipment at workers, or striking a worker with a wet floor sign; pushing an employee against the wall and spitting in their face; and “a dead body and large amounts of blood ... found in the bathroom.”
The plaintiffs said such incidents are neither random nor unforeseeable. According to the complaint, Chicago area emergency service providers take an average of more than 20 calls per day from McDonald’s restaurants, while nationally “American local news outlets deliver a new report on violence at restaurants roughly every 36 hours.”
Although the company is aware of the security risks employees face, the complaint said, it has ignored best practices for safely operating businesses open late, such as fast food restaurants, noting a major push to expand late-night hours starting in 2003. Among the alleged flaws are tearing down or lowering counters dividing customers from workers and covering windows with advertising that makes it harder for people to see what’s happening inside.
The complaint also alleged the company and franchise operators “failed to provide even the most basic security training to most of their workers and managers” and said some managers discouraged employees from calling law enforcement “seemingly out of a misguided belief that a police presence would repel customers.”
Although the corporation doesn’t own all the restaurants, the plaintiffs asserted McDonald’s selects locations, owns or leases restaurant property, and trains all managers, including those who work at franchise stores. The workers also said the physical design of restaurants, which they say is also a top-down corporate decision, is “a critical factor leading to the high risk of violence.”
The complaint said the Chicago area has about 100 franchised McDonald’s and 30 corporately-owned restaurants. Named defendants include Nelson Enterprises, which has a franchise in Oak Park; Jokat Co., which operates a Cicero McDonald’s; and Chicago franchise operators Nornat V, HQ 39148, Karavites Restaurant, Brittlan V, Buena Vida, Nornat, RMC Adams-Wells, RMC Loop Enterprises, Nornat XI and Omakin Restaurants.
Some of the plaintiffs say they worked for McDonald’s up to 10 years. One woman works at the McDonald’s at 1035 W. Randolph St. Chicago, inside the company’s global headquarters, which is the only location involved in the complaint open only 16 hours per day. Of the others, all are open at least 20 hours a day and most never close.
Formal complaints include direct and vicarious liability negligence claims against McDonald’s Corporation and McDonald’s USA, for which the workers seek an injunction forcing physical changes to restaurants to enhance worker safety as well as adequate safety training, security and cash handling policies. They also want damages of at least $50,000 for each plaintiff. The plaintiffs also accused franchisee defendants of breaching a duty to workers by implementing the alleged corporately-mandated physical designs and policies in question.
A jury trial is demanded.
The plaintiffs are represented by Dowd, Bloch, Bennett, Cervone, Auerbach & Yokich, of Chicago; James & Hoffman, P.C., of Washington, D.C.; and David H. Seligman, of Denver.