McDonald’s franchisee agrees to consent decree after sexual abuse of 14-year-old worker

By: - January 18, 2023 10:36 am

Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images.

A company operating 14 McDonald’s restaurants in Minnesota will adopt new sexual harassment policies and procedures under a settlement agreement filed by the Minnesota Department of Human Rights in state court on Wednesday.

The consent decree is the result of a lawsuit filed by the mother of a 14-year-old worker who was sexually assaulted and raped by a supervisor at a Maple Grove McDonald’s in 2018.

The state Department of Human Rights joined the lawsuit shortly after it was filed in 2021, alleging that Hyder Investments — which operates McDonald’s restaurants across the Twin Cities — fostered a workplace culture that allowed the sexual abuse to go on for months.

“This consent decree means that these McDonald’s restaurants are now safer for employees,” Minnesota Department of Human Rights Commissioner Rebecca Lucero said in a statement. “Sexual harassment in the fast-food industry has long been a reality and this consent decree serves up much needed reform.”

A representative for Hyder Investments was not available for comment. The company has denied all allegations of misconduct in legal filings.

Soon after the 14-year-old girl began working at McDonald’s in 2018, supervisor Andrew Albertorio began directing her to work in places where she would be alone. He would then follow her and assault her, according to the complaint filed by the girl’s mother Alethea Grotberg.

In December 2018, he followed her into the cooler and raped her.

“After he assaulted her, they walked out of the cooler and continued to work. To illustrate the absurdity of the situation, (the minor) then had to ask Alberterio for permission to go to the bathroom after he stole her virginity in the McDonald’s cooler,” the complaint reads, with the last phrase in italics.

Albertorio, who was 24 when he worked as a shift manager at the fast-food restaurant, was sentenced to 10 years in prison after pleading guilty to criminal sexual misconduct in January 2020.

Under federal labor laws, teenagers as young as 14 may get jobs in restaurants and other non-agricultural and non-hazardous workplaces but they are limited in what kinds of tasks they can perform and how much they can work.

The complaints from Grotberg and the MDHR say that other managers at the Maple Grove McDonald’s were aware of Albertorio’s inappropriate behavior but didn’t report the abuse. The company’s employee handbook only provided vague information on handling sexual harassment and listed the phone number to report abuse as “XXX-XXX-XXXX,” with all x’s instead of numbers.

Grotberg and her daughter reached a separate settlement agreement with Hyder Investments and its CEO Shahab Hyder. The details of the settlement between Hyder Investments and the victim and her mother were not made public.

Under the negotiated consent decree with MDHR, which must be approved by a judge, Hyder must meet with non-supervisory employees to hear their feedback and concerns and then develop a report that outlines steps to address those concerns. Hyder Investments must also create new policies to prevent and address sexual harassment and abuse, which will be assessed by MDHR.

Employees will also receive regular training on how to intervene in misconduct and report it. Hyder Investments will also pay the MDHR $11,250 under the negotiated consent decree.

The complaint against the Minnesota franchisee is not unique. Female workers at McDonald’s across the country report rampant sexual harassment and abuse. A 2020 survey of 800 female McDonald’s workers found three-quarters said they were harassed and nearly as many said they suffered consequences for reporting the misconduct. (McDonald’s disputes the findings of the survey, which was commissioned by unions.)

Across the service industry more broadly, women and girls working in low-wage jobs have the highest reported incidences of sexual harassment and assault.

Earlier this month, a McDonald’s franchisee agreed to pay nearly $2 million and adopt new policies and procedures to settle a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. According to that lawsuit, supervisors and managers allowed sexual harassment and assault of young teenage employees to continue at McDonald’s restaurants in California, Nevada and Arizona.

In October 2021, hundreds of McDonald’s employees walked out of restaurants in various cities to protest against what they said was repeated sexual harassment. Two women in Florida filed a class-action lawsuit against McDonald’s alleging a hostile work environment.

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Max Nesterak
Max Nesterak

Max Nesterak is the deputy editor of the Reformer and reports on labor and housing. Previously, he was an associate producer for Minnesota Public Radio after a stint at NPR. He also co-founded the Behavioral Scientist and was a Fulbright Scholar to Berlin, Germany.