(Reuters) - Employees at a McDonald’s franchise in Oakland filed a lawsuit against the franchisee on Tuesday alleging that its failure to take even basic steps to protect workers amid the coronavirus pandemic has led to an outbreak that has sickened at least 23 people.
In a complaint filed in California state court in Alameda County, workers represented by Altshuler Berzon said VES McDonald’s provided them with dog diapers and coffee filters to use as masks, and that at least 11 employees at the franchise and several of their relatives have tested positive for COVID-19 over the past month.
VES has told sick employees to continue working and failed to enforce social distancing or provide proper masks, gloves and other protective equipment, creating a “public nuisance” for the surrounding community, according to the complaint.
”This rampant spread of COVID-19 among plaintiffs, their families, and local community members is directly attributable to (VES’) cold-hearted economic decision to ignore substantial, inescapable evidence of rising infection levels among workers,” the plaintiffs said in the complaint.
VES, which operates at least three McDonald’s in the Oakland area, could not immediately be reached for comment.
Illinois-based McDonald’s did not respond to a request for comment. The company is not named as a defendant in the lawsuit, but the complaint accuses McDonald’s of misleading the public by claiming it has adopted an effective response to the pandemic across its corporate-owned and franchise restaurants.
McDonald’s is the subject of a similar lawsuit in Illinois state court claiming it has failed to take steps to protect workers at several corporate-owned restaurants in Chicago. McDonald’s has said that it has implemented various policies in line with guidance from government health authorities, such as social distancing and screening workers prior to their shifts.
The plaintiffs in the Chicago case have moved for a preliminary injunction ordering the company to take further steps to protect workers.
In Tuesday’s lawsuit, the VES employees in Oakland say that during their shifts they routinely come into close contact with coworkers who have tested positive for COVID-19 or are exhibiting symptoms of the illness such as fevers and body aches.
But VES has urged those employees to continue working and instructed workers to wash and reuse masks designed to be worn once, provided flimsy gloves that tear easily, and failed to regularly sanitize surfaces, according to the complaint.
They accused VES of unfair business practices and creating a public nuisance in violation of state law. The plaintiffs say VES has also violated an Oakland ordinance passed last month requiring employers to give workers up to two weeks of paid leave during the pandemic.
They are seeking an order requiring VES to take steps to protect workers, along with compensatory damages.
The case is Hernandez v. VES McDonald’s, California Superior Court, Alameda County, number not available.
For the plaintiffs: Michael Rubin of Altshuler Berzon