Last fall, the DOL announced that it would increase civil money penalties for child labor violations.
And an egregious case out of western Pennsylvania highlights the need to increase protection efforts for underage workers.
Sexual assault in restaurant bathroom
The lawsuit involved Rice Enterprises LLC, a McDonald’s franchisee located in the Pittsburgh area, and a teenage female employee.
In 2021, the girl was raped in a restaurant bathroom, according to a lawsuit filed by her parents.
The suit alleged store manager Walter A. Garner committed the assault. He pleaded guilty to several charges for the assault in the McDonald’s restroom and is currently serving a four to 10-year prison sentence.
It was later discovered that Garner was a registered sex offender at the time of this assault for the previous assault of a 10-year-old.
“How is it that a convicted, registered sex offender is permitted to be hired to manage 14- to 17-year-old girls at a McDonald’s?” Alan Perer, the victim’s lawyer, said during a news conference. “The facts of our case are horrific.”
No training to protect minors?
The employee, who was 14 at the time of the assault, said she didn’t receive any training on sexual harassment or any information about how to report inappropriate misconduct.
Employment attorney Fiona Ong of the firm Shawe Rosenthal LLP says employers must understand that “greater care must be taken with regard to protecting minors from harassment in the workplace, as they tend to be less knowledgeable about their rights and more vulnerable to abuse.”
The franchisee has agreed to pay $4.4 million to the girl and her family to settle the lawsuit.
In a separate action, a second teenage girl has sued McDonald’s and Rice Enterprises, alleging sexual harassment by Garner.