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McDonalds Faces a “Supersized” Class Action Lawsuit

McDonalds employees working at McDonald’s franchises in New York, California and Michigan have filed a lawsuit against both McDonalds the company as well as several franchise owners of McDonalds.  The employees are accusing McDonalds of various illegal labor practices such as violating minimum wage and overtime regulations.

“Our wages are already at rock bottom,” said Sharnell Grandberry, a McDonald’s worker in Detroit, “It is time for McDonald’s to stop skirting the law to pad profits. We need to get paid for the hours we work.”

While the lawsuits in the three states are similar, they do differ in some ways. Specifically, in Michigan employees are asserting that their timesheet hours are getting erased and that they are working “off the clock” by showing up to work and ordered to wait up to two hours before punching in.   In New York and Michigan, employees are alleging that the franchise owners don’t allow them to take lunch breaks.  The New York lawsuit also alleges that because McDonalds requires its employees to pay for their uniforms, it reduces their pay below the federal minimum wage of $7.25.  In the three California lawsuits, the employees claim that they were not paid for all of their hours worked, they were denied meal and rest periods, and had hours shaved off of their time sheets.

So what does McDonalds’s have to say about all of this?  A McDonald’s spokeswoman issued this statement: “McDonald’s and our independent owner-operators share a concern and commitment to the well-being and fair treatment of all people who work in McDonald’s restaurants. We are currently reviewing the allegations in the lawsuits. McDonald’s and our independent franchisees are committed to undertaking a comprehensive investigation of the allegations and will take any necessary actions as they apply to our respective organizations.”

As of now, 7 lawsuits have been filed.  The lawsuit purposes to be a class action representing over 25,000 current and former McDonald employees.  Today, most fast food restaurants are franchises that are owned by local businessmen and women. This model of franchising makes it difficult to hold the corporation accountable for labor violations.  Therefore, while McDonald’s is named as a defendant, McDonald’s position is that they cannot be held liable because they do not employee the plaintiffs.  To (presumably) distance themselves from potential litigation, McDonald’s contract with their franchises stipulates that “Franchisee and McDonald’s are not and do not intend to be partners, associates, or joint employers in any way.” This type of contract language is typical in a franchise agreement.

This lawsuit is a backdrop to the union backed movements who are pressuring fast food restaurants to increase wages to $15 an hour.  This includes President Obama pushing Congress to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour.  Also, while allegations made in the lawsuit are fairly common for fast food restaurants, the multi-jurisdictional lawsuit will bring negative publicity and attention to McDonald’s pay practices during a time when labor unions and lawmakers are already pressuring Congress and companies to raise wages.

We will continue to watch this matter and keep you apprised of all developments.


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