Broward News

Gay Employees at Miramar McDonald's Claim Harassment, Pay Discrimination

When Westley Williams started working as a sandwich-maker at the McDonald's on South University Drive in Miramar two years ago, he quickly noticed his new coworkers had an unfortunate habit of making fun of gay people who came into the store.

Williams, a 41-year-old Hollywood resident who is gay, concluded that this was not a good place to be out. In order to avoid questions about his sexuality, he started carrying a picture of a woman and a little boy in his wallet, telling people the woman was his wife and the little boy was his son. When his coworkers asked why they hadn't met her yet, he'd make up an excuse: she was busy with work, she was traveling, she'd come in next week.

Eventually, they began to suspect something was up. Around that same time, he asked a coworker to plug in his phone, then came into the break room to find everyone laughing at him. The coworker had found a picture that he’d saved of the man he was dating at the time and showed it to everyone else.

“I’m like, 'That’s an invasion of privacy. Why are you going in my phone?' ” he says.

After Williams was outed, he began to face exactly the kind of harassment he’d feared. One coworker repeatedly called him a "fag." His manager kept bumping into him in the kitchen and pretending it was an accident and refused to give him a uniform that fit properly, then accused him of trying to “entice” him with his tight pants.

Another time, Williams says, his manager cornered him and suggestively told him, “I know what you like.”

“I was ‘What do I like?’ and he said, ‘Oh, you like dick,’ ” Williams says.

Williams filed complaints with HR, but his requests to be transferred to a different store were ignored. He has since filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board.

“I can’t believe I’m working for one of the largest companies in the world and I’m being harassed,” he says. “I worked for Walmart before this, and Walmart was not like that. They did not tolerate any type of harassment.”

Recently, the sheer volume of sexual harassment that McDonald's employees endure on the job has been getting national attention. Last week, 15 workers filed sexual harassment claims with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission through the Fight for $15 campaign, which has been pushing for a $15 minimum wage and the right to unionize. On Thursday, activists from Fight for $15 held a protest at the Miramar McDonalds to draw attention to to the harassment that Williams and other fast food workers face.

McDonald’s has released an official statement saying they’re reviewing the allegations, but Williams says he hasn’t noticed any changes at his workplace and wants to see managers get retraining.

“I don’t want nobody else to go through what I’m going through,” he says. “We live in a time when people shouldn’t have to go through discrimination. It’s bad enough not being paid enough. People should be treated with respect and dignity, you know?”

Adding insult to injury, he adds, he hasn’t had a raise in a year.

“I really feel like it’s based on my sexuality,” he says. “I come to work, and I work and work. The two gay people in there, we’re the only ones who haven’t had a raise.”
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Antonia Farzan is a fellow at New Times. After receiving a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University, she moved to South Florida to pursue her dream of seeing a manatee and meeting DJ Khaled (ideally at the same time). She was born and raised in Rhode Island and has a BA in classics from Hamilton College.