The family of a teenage girl has settled a lawsuit for $4.35 million with a McDonald’s franchise after they say their daughter was raped by the manager inside the restaurant’s bathroom, according to attorneys and court documents.
The girl was 14 when she was hired at a Pittsburgh-area McDonald’s owned by Rice Enterprises LLC in October 2020, according to a lawsuit.
In January 2021, the manager was replaced by a new manager named Walter A. Garner. Almost immediately, he began to sexually harass the girl, the lawsuit said.
Garner began making comments toward the girl, asking to see her outside of work and touching her inappropriately, according to the lawsuit filed in September 2021.
Several other underage workers said Garner was also harassing them, the lawsuit said, and the girls talked about what was going on and decided to report it to the hiring manager.
The lawsuit said McDonald’s did not investigate the complaint beyond a phone call, and the harassment continued.
Then, in mid-February, the girl went into the bathroom during her break and Garner followed her in, court records said. He overpowered her and raped her, according to the lawsuit.
The girl went into shock but continued to work for the restaurant and the harassment continued, the lawsuit said.
At one point, upper management reviewed security footage after a theft report and saw Garner grope the girl, according to the court document. Management spoke to him about what they saw, but he was not fired or disciplined.
The girl said the harassment continued and that Garner pressured her to meet with him outside of work to engage in sexual acts, the lawsuit said.
Only when another underage worker reported the harassment to her school was action taken, according to the lawsuit.
In mid-April 2021, Garner was arrested and that’s when he was fired.
“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. Since then, we’ve redoubled our efforts to ensure a positive and respectful experience for all employees in our restaurants, and our organization maintains a zero-tolerance policy for harassment of any kind,” Michele Rice of Rice Enterprises LLC said in a statement emailed to McClatchy News.
According to the lawsuit, Garner was a registered sex offender who served time in prison on charges of sexually assaulting a 10-year-old girl.
“How does a known sex offender get hired and be permitted to manage underage girls between 14 and 17 years of age?” the family’s attorney, Alan Perer, said in a Feb. 5 news release. “For a company to allow a known sex offender to have access to and control over young teens turns America’s best first job into a nightmare for those teens.”
However, Rice said a third party conducted the background check on Garner and his status as a registered sex offender didn’t show up.
“We have sued that vendor to redress the harm that their error caused the plaintiff, our business, and our reputation,” Rice said.
Garner pleaded guilty to statutory sexual assault, indecent assault and other charges, and he is incarcerated, the release said.
McClatchy News tried to contact Garner’s attorney but could not reach him.