McDonald’s Franchisee Paying $4.4M After Worker Aged 14 Raped by Manager
- A McDonald’s worker in Pittsburgh said in a lawsuit she was raped by her manager when she was 14.
- The lawsuit says her employer didn’t take action after she tried to report the harassment she experienced.
- McDonald’s franchisee Rice Enterprises is paying $4.35 million to settle the suit, first filed in 2021.
A McDonald’s franchisee has agreed to pay $4.35 million to settle a lawsuit from a worker in Pittsburgh who said she was raped by her manager, a registered sex offender, when she was 14.
The case reached a settlement last Monday. The minor’s family had filed a lawsuit against both McDonald’s and Rice Enterprises, the eight-unit franchise business operating the restaurant she worked at, in September 2021.
The lawsuit accused McDonald’s and Rice Enterprises of failing to train the minor on how to identify and report sexual harassment, perform background checks on the manager, and properly address complaints of sexual harassment and abuse made by minors.
McDonald’s was released from any legal claims on the topic and was not a signatory on the settlement, which was reached between the minor’s family and Rice Enterprises.
The minor, who wasn’t named in the legal filings, started working at the restaurant in Pittsburgh in late 2020. Early the next year, Walter Garner, now 44, became her manager, according to the lawsuit.
“Garner began sexually harassing Plaintiff almost immediately after they began working together on the same shift,” the lawsuit says.
He started by verbally harassing the minor and making sexual innuendoes, according to the lawsuit. His comments “became both more overt and more frequent,” including making remarks about the minor’s butt and repeatedly asking to see her outside of work.
Garner then began touching her inappropriately, the lawsuit says. When she asked him to stop, he told her she was being uptight, according to the lawsuit.
He behaved similarly toward two other female minors who worked at the restaurant, the lawsuit says.
The three minors told the restaurant’s hiring manager about the harassment, but the franchise business didn’t take any action, the lawsuit claims. The minor whose family filed the lawsuit says she didn’t receive any training related to sexual harassment in the workplace when she started at the company.
Then, in February 2021, the minor went into the bathroom during her break because she was not feeling well. “Garner entered the bathroom after her, grabbed Plaintiff and overpowered her, pulled off her McDonald’s uniform, and raped her,” the lawsuit says.
The lawsuit says that the minor went “into shock.” She tried to forget about the incident and continued working at the restaurant, the lawsuit says.
According to the lawsuit, at some point after this, more senior managers at the restaurant saw video footage of Garner groping the minor while they were investigating a theft from the cash drawer. They spoke to Garner about his conduct but didn’t discipline him, according to the lawsuit.
So Garner continued to harass the minor, the lawsuit says. “Garner attempted to have sex with Plaintiff inside the kids’ area at the McDonald’s location in question, but Plaintiff refused,” the lawsuit says. “Garner pressured Plaintiff to meet with him after work, where he again used pressure and influence to coerce Plaintiff into sexual acts.”
In April, Garner showed some photos of himself and the plaintiff to another minor worker at the restaurant, who told her school administration, according to the lawsuit. Staff at the school called the police, who started an investigation the next day, the plaintiff’s lawyers said. Police arrested Garner on May 21, 2021, according to his criminal docket.
In October 2021, he pleaded guilty to offenses including statutory sexual assault and indecent assault of a minor, his criminal docket shows. He was sentenced to a minimum of four years in prison, and a maximum of 10. Garner remains in prison.
Rice Enterprises only fired Garner after he was arrested, the lawsuit claims.
“As soon as we were made aware of the complaint against Garner in 2021, we terminated his employment and offered our full support to the impacted employees and law enforcement investigating this case,” Rice Enterprises said in a statement sent to BI by its lawyers.
Garner had previously spent time in prison over the sexual assault of a 10-year-old in 1999 and was registered as a permanent sex offender on the Megan’s Law sex offender registry, according to the lawsuit and documents viewed by Business Insider.
The minor’s attorneys said in a press release they agreed to a settlement so that she wouldn’t have to endure the “additional stress and trauma” of a trial.
In its statement, Rice Enterprises said provides “all employees with a strict policy on sexual harassment and policies and procedures for reporting any violations.” It said that since learning of Garner’s harassment, it had “redoubled our efforts to ensure a positive and respectful experience for all employees in our restaurants,” it said.
Rice Enterprises said it conducts background checks on “all management positions” and put Garner’s hiring down to a “third-party vendor,” named by local outlet TribLive as Backgroundchecks.com, which it said reported that Garner did not have any previous arrests or issues. Rice Enterprises sued the vendor, Backgroundchecks.com in May 2023, according to a copy of the lawsuit viewed by BI.
“The events that took place in this case are deeply troubling,” McDonald’s USA told BI. “Everyone working under the Arches deserves to feel safe and respected when they come to work, and sexual harassment or violence of any kind is completely unacceptable.”
“We’re committed to providing franchisees with the resources they need to create a safe working environment in their restaurants – including training around harassment prevention,” the company said.