McDonald’s Franchise Must Face Sex Bias, Retaliation Suit

A Kansas federal court has refused to allow a McDonald’s franchise avoid the lawsuit of a former manager – which claims her employer demoted her and changed her schedule after she reported a male colleague forcibly kissed and threatened her. The court determined that a jury might find the Plaintiff had been discriminated against.

In an order filed this week, U.S. District Judge John W. Broomes declined to grant the Kansas franchise's December 2021 motion for summary judgment of Cristle Plain's federal discrimination, hostile work environment and retaliation claims. He granted the motion as it pertained to additional claims brought under Kansas state law, which Plain withdrew.

"Plaintiff cites evidence, which if believed by a jury, would show she was offered the option of continuing to work with a male employee who had threatened and berated her on account of sex, or accept a materially adverse change in her compensation, working conditions and benefits," Judge Broomes said.

Plain sued McDonald's Corp. and Nichols Management, the franchisee, in December 2019, alleging that a male crew member had told her that women couldn't do the job as well as men could, and made comments about her body and appearance. McDonald's is no longer a defendant in the suit, the court docket shows.

Following Plain’s reports of his behavior to a higher-up he would temporarily stop, she claimed, only to resume the behavior and force her to complain again, the order said.

She also claimed that during one instance in which she was forced to come to work despite being sick in May 2018, the man berated her, threatened her and called her gender-based slurs. Her supervisor placed her on probation for yelling in front of customers, despite her contention that she hadn't started the argument with the shift manager.

After this incident, her supervisor and the franchise's owner moved Plain to a different store, resulting in a demotion and costing her a regular bonus, the order stated. She quit later that month, according to Tuesday's order.

In declining to grant Nichols' motion for summary judgment on her hostile work environment claim, the court ruled that Plain's evidence might sway a jury to believe that the crew member's behavior was severe and pervasive enough to justify that claim.

And despite Nichols' argument that she couldn't prove she'd been treated worse than her male co-worker because her shift to a different store was only a "trivial employment action," the court kept her disparate treatment discrimination claim alive.

"A jury could find that [the crew member's] conduct was egregious while plaintiff did little more than to attempt to verbally defend herself against an unjustified attack. Given that defendant's proposed employment action was to send plaintiff rather than [the male employee] to another store, while also demoting her and wreaking havoc with her schedule, a jury could reasonably infer that plaintiff was treated less favorably by defendant on account of her sex," Judge Broomes said.

The court made the same call on her retaliation claim, determining she had enough evidence that she'd faced an adverse employment action as the result of her opposition to discrimination.

"At this stage of the litigation, the court was required to construe all of the plaintiff's allegations in her favor in deciding the motion, which is undoubtedly why the court ruled as it did," Vaughn Burkholder, counsel for Nichols, told Law360 on Thursday.

"We look forward to the trial of this case, where we will prove we did nothing that was improper," Vaughn said.

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