U.S. News & World Report • Emily Martin
Only weeks ago, women took to the streets across the country and sent a resounding message: They will hold the Trump administration and Congress accountable for any attempts to turn back the clock on women’s rights. But the Senate, despite delays, may soon consider President Donald Trump’s pick Andrew Puzder for secretary of labor – a man with a problematic record on women that demonstrates he is unfit to serve.
Puzder, the CEO of CKE Restaurants, put the Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s brands on the map by pushing the envelope to see how close burger commercials could get to soft-core pornography without being banned from network TV. He embraced raunchy ad campaigns that featured, in his words, “beautiful women eating burgers in bikinis,” who hosed themselves down, rode mechanical bulls and straddled bags of burgers. A company press release trumpeted, “We believe in putting hot models in our commercials, because ugly ones don’t sell burgers.” Despite the criticism that followed, Puzder embraced the ads as an extension of himself, stating that they “[took] on my personality” as CEO.
Puzder may have been proud of the ads, but it seems he didn’t consider their impact on the women who work for him. Women working in the restaurant industry, including in fast food, experience extraordinarily high levels of sexual harassment from customers, co-workers and managers. According to a 2016 survey by Hart Research Associates, 40 percent of female fast-food workers are sexually harassed.
Given the company’s brand identity, it is not surprising that women working at CKE Restaurants appear to experience harassment at even higher rates. Restaurant Opportunities Center United found that among women working at CKE Restaurants who responded to its recent survey, a full two-thirds had experienced sexual harassment, with harassment by customers being the most common form. The survey quotes a woman who states, “Customers have asked why I don’t dress like the women in the commercials.”
In addition, sexual harassment cases filed against CKE Restaurants during Puzder’s tenure show a repeated pattern of women experiencing crude comments and touching at the hands of co-workers and supervisors, and, if the women complained, managers who failed to take any action to address the harassment. Moreover, a recent analysis by Capital & Main found that CKE’s Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s restaurants had more federal harassment and discrimination lawsuits filed against them than any other fast food burger chain since 2000, when Puzder became CEO. Given this record, it is not surprising that Puzder has sung the praises of automation, noting that unlike employees, robots don’t file discrimination lawsuits.