McDonald’s franchisee agrees to pay $4.4M after manager sexually assaulted teen

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BY MARK SCOLFORO

A franchisee of fast food giant McDonald’s has agreed to pay a teenage girl $4.4 million to settle her lawsuit over having been sexually assaulted by a Pittsburgh-area restaurant manager who was a registered sex offender, the victim’s lawyers announced on Monday.

The deal between the girl, who was 14 at the time of the 2021 sexual assault, and McDonald’s franchisee Rice Enterprises LLC, compensates her for the attack by Walter A. Garner in the restaurant bathroom.

At the time, Garner, now 44, had served prison time and was listed on the Megan’s Law website for sexually assaulting a 10-year-old girl.

Garner pleaded guilty in 2021 to statutory sexual assault, indecent assault and other charges for the McDonald’s assault and is serving a state prison sentence. A message seeking comment was left Monday for the public defenders who represented him in that case and in the 2003 case that was resolved with a guilty plea to aggravated indecent assault and other charges.

The lawsuit helped prompt an October 2021 strike by workers in 12 U.S. cities, an effort to get the company to better address what they described as an ongoing problem of sexual harassment and violence in McDonald’s stores.

Through a McDonald’s spokesperson, Rice Enterprises said it fired Garner as soon as they learned of the allegations against him in 2021.

“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,” Rice Enterprises said in the emailed statement. The company said it puts new hires through “safe and respectful workplace training” and has enhanced security.

The employee was 14 when she began working at a McDonald’s in Bethel Park in October 2020. She said she had no training on sexual harassment or how to report it. Garner made sexual comments to her and touched her inappropriately before the bathroom sexual assault in mid-February 2021, according to the lawsuit.

Garner was arrested in April 2021 after another McDonald’s employee told administrators at her school about his behavior and police were called, the lawsuit said.

Lawyer Alan Perer, who represents the girl and her parents in the Allegheny County civil litigation, said he questions how a sex offender was hired to manage girls of high school age.

“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,” Perer said in a release.

McDonald’s USA called the girl’s assault deeply troubling, issuing a statement that said violence and sexual harassment are completely unacceptable. The company said it is committed to providing franchisees with training resources to help prevent harassment.

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