By Lisa Baertlein and Mica Rosenberg
(Reuters) - Former McDonald's Corp workers in Virginia on Thursday filed a civil rights lawsuit against the world's largest fast-food chain and the owner of restaurants where they worked in the latest bid to hold the chain legally responsible for the actions of its franchisees.
Nine African-American and one Hispanic worker claimed they were subjected to "rampant racial and sexual harassment" by supervisors at three restaurants run by McDonald's franchisee Michael Simon, who operates as Soweva Co. The workers are also claiming wrongful termination in a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Virginia.
The workers alleged they called McDonald's corporate office to complain about the discrimination and their firings, but that the company did nothing.
Representatives from McDonald's were not immediately available for comment.
In the lawsuit, the workers alleged that McDonald's Corp has control over nearly every aspect of its franchised restaurants' operations, including hiring, firing, wage-setting, scheduling, training and discipline.
Paul Smith, an associate at Patterson Harkavy LLP who represents the workers, said courts look to the degree of control and authority over franchisee operations when determining if a franchiser is a joint employer.
About a month ago, the general counsel of the U.S. National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) filed a complaint against McDonald's Corp, which could hold it liable for violations by its franchisees. Restaurant workers from across the country claimed they were fired or intimidated for participating in union organizing and in protests calling for higher wages.
The outcome of those cases could affect a wide swath of industries, including hotel chains, manufacturers, construction firms and fast-food chains like McDonald's.
Pending class-action lawsuits filed last year in California, Michigan and New York also seek to hold McDonald's responsible for alleged wage theft and other violations by franchisees.