McDonald's hit with complaints and lawsuits for gender-based discrimination

Workers who claim sexual harassment, gender-based discrimination and subsequent retaliation at the fast-food chain tell their story, and legal experts break down the issues.
8:12 | 05/22/19

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Transcript for McDonald's hit with complaints and lawsuits for gender-based discrimination
Reporter: She was just 16, working as a cashier at an McDonald's in Tucson, but Brittany says that first job turned into a nightmare when an older employee preyed on her. When I started to see that his intentions were something other than just dropping me off at work, it became more complicated. Reporter: Brittany then became one of thousands of women across the country who say they were sexually harassed on the job. I felt like all my hard work and everything I had put into it was taken away like that. It was horrible. Reporter: Today Brittany, who is now 19 years old is on the front lines of a fight against workplace harassment. For me, it was the worst experience I've ever had. We've got your back! But I have friends other places, other fast food restaurants where they've gone through the same thing as mine or worse. Reporter: She joined a chorus of women linked arm in arm who say they will no longer be among them, the host of bravo's "Top chef." Today the labor group fight for 15, along with the aclu and time's up legal defense fund, created to expand the #me too move the past Hollywood announced these cases. 25 new charges and lawsuits against McDonald's. Reporter: This chapter in the me too movement is taking on an iconic corporation, accusing it of sexual harassment, gender-based discrimination and retaliation that they say reflects the brutal reality facing low-wage workers. It's time to sit down with the workers who helped make $6 billion in profits, so we can stop harassment once and for all. What this latest round of cases represents is that women who previously were voiceless, invisible, did the work that a lot of us took for granted of making our food, those women and their experiences have come out of the shadows. Reporter: Brittany's story begins in 2016, when she first took that job at McDonald's to help support her family. I was one of the main providers for a family of six. Reporter: But she says an older manager repeatedly subjected her to unwanted attention, starting with text messages about how she dressed. And then it went from there to my family didn't have a car at the time, and he had offered to take me home after work. Which I accepted. Because I had no other way home at the time, and I needed the money from the job. So, from there, it just became more personal. Reporter: In a complaint Brittany filed with the equal employment opportunity commission she alleges that during that car ride he flirted with her in a suggestive manner and once tried to kiss her. On another occasion, she alleges he touched her ponytail and her neck. It got worse and it continued, I felt like I had to let my parents know. Reporter: She says her parents took action, reporting his behavior to other managers. Then she says she was retaliated against. My hours had been cut. They would place me on undesirable shifts. Reporter: For padma, it is I wanted to stand in solidarity, shoulder to shoulder with these women. Reporter: She began her career as a model and actress in This season we are dreaming big. Reporter: Today the host of "Top chef." But after 32 years of living with a painful secret, she revealed in the "New York Times" that she was raped by an older boyfriend when she was just 16, writing the next thing I remember is waking up to a very sharp stabbing pain, like a knife blade between my legs. He was on top of me. My hope is that the more of us who tell our story, we will actually diminish the occurrence of this happening. Reporter: Sexual harassment allegations against McDonald's are nothing new. Back in 2012, the eeoc won a million dollars settlement against a Wisconsin franchisee on complaints that began in and last September, hundreds of workers went on strike, walking off the job in protest. Womens advocates place the responsibility squarely in McDonald's hands, throughout its web of locations, even though 90% are owned independently. They have the power over their franchises to control the policies that are put in place, then how those policies are implemented. Reporter: In a written response, McDonald's stated it rolled out new training program last fall to prevent harassment and discrimination for all restaurant managers and strengthening their policy on interactive training, they have a hotline and listening to employees across the system, McDonald's is sending a clear message that we are committed to creating and sustaining a culture of trust where employees feel safe, valued and respected. The restaurant industry is notorious for allegations like these. A 2016 survey found that 40% of women in the fast food industry had faced workplace sexual harassment. And of them, more than one in five reported retaliation after raising the issue with their employer. The women who are at the center of these charges make $8, $9, $10 an hour. A lot of these folks are supporting kids and losing a job because they're experiencing retaliation means losing support for their families, losing rent, losing their homes. I was a lot tanner back then. Reporter: Madison, whose last name we are withholding was only 16 years old when she started working at an ihop franchise in Illinois. She spoke about two of her managers' lewd behavior with Diane sawyer last year. They would come up behind me and just rub up against me. They're so confident, you know. No one was ever going to say anything. Reporter: She says one of them asked her to run a personal errand with him before the shift started. The teenager got in the car. What happened? He approached the car, and he just unbuckled his belt and unzipped his pants and he, he just pulled out his penis, and it was already erect. It was, like he was, I don't know. It was just ready. And then he grabbed the back of my head and pushed my head down and I, he just kept pushing my head up and down, and he said, well, it's not worth it if you're not enjoying it. Reporter: Afterwards, she says the franchise owner and those two managers warned the young girl she should say nothing, not only to protect her job but to protect their families. She continued to work there for one more year. I feel so nave for even going in the car to begin with. And I think I blamed myself for a long time. Reporter: Madison filed a lawsuit against the franchise and the ihop corporation. They settled and paid an undisclosed sum and pledged to implement new sexual harassment policies. If no one does anything about it they will continue getting away with it. In July I'll be joining the air force. I found my voice in this fight and will continue speaking out until McDonald's takes our issues seriously, addresses them and makes a change. Thank you. Reporter: For "Nightline," linsey Davis in New York.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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