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McDonald’s franchisee agrees to overhaul its harassment policy

A Minnesota McDonald’s franchisee has agreed to make sweeping changes to its policies and organization regarding sexual harassment.

The Minnesota Department of Human Rights (MDHR) announced Jan. 18 that it filed a settlement agreement in the Fourth Judicial District that requires Hyder Investments to come into compliance with the Minnesota Human Rights Act (MHRA).

Hyder Investments came onto the MDHR’s radar a few years ago, following a civil lawsuit filed by a mother on behalf of her minor child after a restaurant supervisor was convicted of sexually assaulting her. The child was just 14 years old in 2018 when she began working at a Maple Grove McDonalds. Her supervisor — 24-year-old Andrew Otero Albertorio — began grooming her for a sexual relationship. While Albertorio began by sexually harassing her, his advances became more aggressive and violent. He eventually raped her in the cooler. The sexual abuse continued many more times at the restaurant. Ultimately, the manager was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

In the civil matter, the child’s mother alleged quid pro quo sexual harassment in violation of the MHRA. The MDHR filed to join the civil lawsuit against Hyder in 2021. Hyder and the employee reached an agreement in the civil matter. Conard Nelson Schaffer, who represented the minor, declined to comment on the consent decree filed by the MDHR. Terms of the agreement are unavailable.

“Workers—especially young workers—have the right to be safe at work. Here, McDonald’s failed to create a safe workplace when a manager repeatedly sexually assaulted a 14-year-old worker,” stated Rebecca Lucero, Minnesota Department of Human Rights Commissioner when the MDHR moved to intervene. The MDHR noted that there were several instances where employees in positions of authority knew what was going on between the minor and her manager and did not take action to stop the abuse. After Albertorio was arrested for sexual assault of a minor, the company only allegedly fired him for bringing marijuana to the restaurant.

Moreover, employees were not given adequate information about what to do if sexual harassment occurred on the job. While the company-issued employee handbook stated that they could call to report it, they were not given a functional phone number. The number they were provided with was (XXX) XXX-XXXX. The “phone number” only included the letter X, repeated 10 times.

Per the consent decree, Hyder will have to create and enforce sexual harassment and assault policies that everyone has access to and can understand. It will also have to develop a system for reporting harassment. The franchisee is required to develop sexual harassment and discrimination trainings, with special emphasis on the importance of those in supervisory roles. Hyder must also listen to the concerns of non-supervisory employees and generate a report that has steps to deal with any issues. Additionally, Hyder will pay $11,250 to the MDHR.

“Sexual harassment in the fast-food industry has long been a reality, and this consent decree serves up much needed reform. From policy changes to required trainings to leadership engagement, this comprehensive agreement is a new beginning and an opportunity for culture change at each of these restaurants,” said Lucero.

Many lawsuits have been filed against McDonalds franchisees across the United States for failures to protect minor employees from sexual harassment and assault. A Pittsburgh-based franchisee was sued after a manager, who was also a registered sex offender, sexually assaulted a minor employee. The EEOC sued a McDonald’s franchisee due to young workers being sexually assaulted in McDonalds franchises in Arizona, California, and Nevada. In January 2023, AMTCR, Inc., which operates those franchises, agreed to pay $1,997,500 to resolve the lawsuit.

Hyder Investments, which operates a dozen McDonalds in the state, was not available for comment.

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