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Lawsuit Against McD's Alleging Unsafe Workplace Is First in Flood


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The SEIU paid for a full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal May 21, claiming McDonald's "has failed to swiftly close and disinfect stores following confirmed reports of COVID-19 among employees."

The first high-profile class-action lawsuit in franchising alleging unsafe workplace conditions during COVID-19, brought by five Chicago McDonald's workers and four of their family members, passed its first hurdle for the plaintiffs yesterday. A flood of such cases is expected, legal experts say.

That's when Cook County Circuit Judge Eve Reilly allowed the case to go forward, rejecting McDonald's Corp.'s arguments that government health agencies, not the courts, had primary jurisdiction to hear the claims.

In a lawsuit filed May 19, the employees alleged, "McDonald's has failed to take adequate steps in response to the pandemic. The damage done by inadequate safety practices is not confined to the walls of a restaurant, but instead has broader public health consequences for the Chicago community."

The plaintiffs claim McDonald's response to the virus constitutes a public health nuisance, borrowing a legal strategy typically applied to closing down rowdy strip clubs, for example, or, in one recent effort that did not move forward, a Smithfield meatpacking plant in Missouri. In that case, filed in April, a judge said OSHA was the proper agency to handle the matter.

About yesterday's ruling, McDonald's sent a statement expressing "disappointment" in the judge's ruling. 

When the lawsuit was filed, McDonald's called the allegations "inaccurate characterizations…which do not represent the actual realities in our 14,000 restaurants around the country." It said it issued a 59-page guide its restaurants must follow to protect employees and customers.

McDonald's also criticized the SEIU, the union supporting the plaintiffs, which has backed other efforts such as Fight for $15 and joint employer rulings. Critics say the SEIU's actions are done primarily to unionize fast-food restaurant workers to fatten their thinning membership.

In a full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal May 21 paid for by SEIU, with the headline "McDonald's: Protect Your Workers" and addressed to CEO Chris Kempczinski, the signators said, "We are aware of scores of cases of COVID-19 positive workers in at least 19 states across the country. Time and time again, McDonald's has failed to swiftly close and disinfect stores following confirmed reports of COVID-19 among employees. To make matters worse, your restaurants have also failed to promptly inform workers of exposure to the virus and to provide pay during quarantine."

On its website, the law firm DLA Piper said COVID-19 related class actions are "exploding" in the U.S. and Canada. "As expected, plaintiffs' lawyers and litigation funders have already begun capitalizing on the pandemic to bring a significant number" of class actions. "Between the beginning of March 2020 and as of May 25, 2020, 442 COVID-19-related putative class actions have been filed throughout the U.S. Canadian courts have seen 32 COVID-19 related class actions."

"We are already seeing plaintiffs' lawyers trolling for plaintiffs for putative class action cases in the UK and Australia," the article said, written by Jean-Pierre Douglas-Henry and a number of other DLA Piper attorneys.

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The latest news, opinions and commentary on what's happening in the franchise arena that could affect your business.

Laura MichaelsLaura Michaels is editor of Franchise Times. She can be reached at 612.767.3210, or send story ideas to lmichaels@franchisetimes.com.
 
Beth EwenBeth Ewen is senior editor of Franchise Times. She can be reached at 612.767.3212, or send story ideas to bewen@franchisetimes.com.
 
Nicholas UptonNicholas Upton is restaurants editor at Franchise Times. He can be reached at 612.767.3226, or send story ideas to nupton@franchisetimes.com.
 
Mary Jo LarsonMary Jo Larson is the publisher of Franchise Times Magazine and the Restaurant Finance Monitor.  You can find her on Twitter at
 twitter.com/mlarson1011.
 

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