McDonald's has spent millions over the past six decades to get people to associate their brand with happiness. We can all hum the jingle, we can all sing "I'm lovin' it." But not everyone who walks away from McDonald's is happy. For our client, a young woman, McDonald's left her traumatized, self-conscious, and scarred for life.
Bernice started working at her neighborhood McDonald's when she was in high school. Her friend had a job there, and Bernice needed an after-school job. Bernice quickly worked her way up from cashier to shift manager. She took pride in her work and in doing a job right. About 18 months in, she was on the floor cleaning under the fryer. They needed to stock products under there, so the area needed to be as clean as possible. The maintenance guy for that location was behind her, cleaning the frappe machine. He had a large bucket full of hot water stationed on a cart in between them. Next thing Bernice knew, she felt a splash, hot water was burning her scalp, her left ear, her neck, her chest, and the left side of her body. Bernice started screaming and ran to the office. The manager started putting burn cream on her and called 911. Bernice was transported to the nearest hospital for emergency treatment and then taken to the burn unit at Memorial Hermann Hospital. She had suffered second and third degree burns to a large portion of her upper body and head.
Bernice was bedridden while she healed. Significant burns can leave lasting damage and more than just disfiguring scars. The burns left Bernice with issues controlling her body temperature and left her feeling raw and her nerves on fire. About two months after she was burned, she decided she needed to try to go back to work. She would face her fears. In addition to feeling ugly, she was scared to work in the area where she'd been burned. Working at the fryer or the grill caused her body temperature to skyrocket. Sweat seared her skin, inflaming the burns and giving her a rash. She had to quit her job. She was worried this meant she wouldn't be able to achieve her dreams.
McDonald's employment contracts prevent injured workers from getting justice in court
She needed help. She was 17 at the time she was burned, and it totally flipped her life upside down. Her dream had been to become a therapy, but this burn had totally changed her plans. Instead of enrolling in college that fall, she was stuck in bed, in pain, and traumatized. She was permanently scarred and disfigured on her face, scalp, neck, and chest. She had work restrictions that affected her dreams. She planned to work her way through college and had just completed her nurse's aid certification. She lasted a few months at a nursing home before the complications from her burns prevented her from being able to do everything the job required. She was developing cheloids, and needed to see a plastic surgeon.
Bernice hired Curtis to help her find a way forward. Curtis and Linda got to work right away. Bernice had signed an arbitration agreement when she started working for McDonald's. This meant we wouldn't be able to try her case in front of a jury of her peers. We were able to help her see a plastic surgeon, who started treating her burns with a combination of laser treatments and creams. Curtis investigated McDonald's training and safety processes, and worked up her case. They took the case to mediation, where defense offered an amount that was roughly twice the cost of a year at college. It couldn't bring back her self-esteem. Nothing could. She testified about how much the burn has changed her life, saying, "I just feel like it's so ugly... I feel self-conscious about myself now. I get asked about my chest and face at the gym. Or, like, say, I'll just go to the park. A lot of people ask me questions about my marks. I just have to constantly repeat myself. It's just overhwelming."
The next step was arbitration, where Bernice was awarded a six-figure settlement, over twice the mediation offer. After medical bills, legal fees, and case expenses, Bernice will receive enough to go to college and get her degree in therapy. She may never overcome all of the trauma she's suffered, but she will be able to put her experience to good use to help other people.