A former employee of McDonald’s alleges that a male coworker at a Michigan McDonald’s regularly grabbed her breasts and buttocks and propositioned her for sex, creating a hostile work environment.
This is only the latest allegation of rampant abuse and harassment of female McDonald’s employees. A class-action lawsuit has now been filed, alleging a “culture of sexual harassment” at McDonald’s.
There are currently over 50 claims and charges of sexual harassment of female McDonald’s employees nationwide, but it doesn’t help when there are policy problems coming from the top.
McDonald’s Fires CEO for Violating Relationship Policies
McDonald’s recently fired its CEO based on a consensual relationship with an employee. He was not accused of sexual harassment, but the relationship with his inferior violated company policy.
Clearly, sexual harassment has serious employment consequences. But what about criminal consequences? Can workplace sexual harassment ever result in criminal charges?
While McDonald’s former CEO committed no crime, in some cases, yes there are criminal charges at stake. We’ve put together a guide covering workplace sexual harassment, and the circumstances under which it can be considered a sex crime.
Two Types of Colorado Workplace Sexual Harassment
There are two distinct forms of sexual harassment:
- Quid Pro Quo: The victim’s superior demands or requires sexual favors in exchange for preferential treatment, or to avoid punitive actions.
- Hostile Work Environment: An employer fails to remedy a situation in which a victim is subject to inappropriate behavior, comments or other conduct, causing the workplace to be intimidating or offensive.
In most cases, sexual harassment is not prosecuted as a crime but instead is handled as a civil matter. This means that the employer and/or harassing employee could face a lawsuit and that the employee could face employment consequences.
When Does Sexual Harassment in Colorado Cross the Line Into a Criminal Offense?
Although sexual harassment is usually handled in the civil courts, it can be considered a sex crime in some instances. Most often, the charge of unlawful sexual contact applies.
For instance, a crime is committed when the harasser touches the victim’s intimate parts, including over clothes, without the victim’s consent.
In extreme cases, if the harasser uses the threat of punitive actions to intimidate the victim into performing sex acts, or uses physical force to force the victim to comply, the charge of sexual assault can apply.
In one exceptional case, a Colorado man was charged with sexual assault and invasion of privacy for taking “upskirt” pictures of his coworkers’ intimate areas without their knowledge.
Unlawful Sexual Contact in Colorado
Unlawful sexual contact is the most common sex crime charge resulting from workplace harassment. The crime is characterized by a defendant knowingly touching a victim’s intimate parts or the clothing covering them for sexual arousal, gratification or abuse, and without the victim’s consent.
This charge also applies if the defendant forces the victim to touch the defendant’s intimate parts without the victim’s consent. The sentencing and penalties for unlawful sexual contact depend on the circumstances surrounding the offense:
- CLASS 4 FELONY: The defendant uses force, intimidation or threat to commit the offense. This is punishable by 4-12 years in prison and a $2,000-$500,000 fine.
- CLASS 1 MISDEMEANOR: This is the typical penalty, but is subject to enhanced sentencing of 6 months – 2 years in prison and a fine of $500-$5,000
Both degrees of unlawful sexual contact are subject to possible sex offender registration.
Being accused of sexual harassment can put your reputation, employment and potentially even your freedom at stake. This means that any allegations of sexual harassment must be taken very seriously, regardless of their validity.
If you’re facing sexual harassment allegations, don’t do it alone. Take swift and decisive action to fight back and clear your good name.
About the Author:
Kimberly Diego is a criminal defense attorney in Denver practicing at The Law Office of Kimberly Diego. She obtained her undergraduate degree from Georgetown University and her law degree at the University of Colorado. She was named one of Super Lawyers’ “Rising Stars of 2012” and “Top 100 Trial Lawyers in Colorado” for 2012 and 2013 by The National Trial Lawyers. Both honors are limited to a small percentage of practicing attorneys in each state. She has also been recognized for her work in domestic violence cases.