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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Workers Take McDonald's to Court

McDonald's Russia faces further allegations of unfair work practices, with two separate suits brought by employees against company management heard Wednesday in Moscow's Central District Court.

Stella Titova, who worked for two years as a cleaner at the company's Pushkin Square restaurant, filed suit for lost wages and punitive damages against her former manager, whom she accused of deliberately humiliating her.

In a separate case, Yevgeny Druzhinin, a driver at McDonald's Peredelkino processing plant south of Moscow, petitioned the court to annul an official reprimand recorded against him for drunkenness.

After Titova declined an out-of-court settlement, her suit was held over to July 7. Druzhinin's case was also postponed to that date, in order to give McDonald's more time to prepare its case.

Druzhinin said that the reprimand came after security guards at his workplace - infuriated that he had intervened to protect a woman colleague - falsely accused him of drunkenness.

He said he had refused to take a blood test on the day of the incident, International Women's Day, March 8, because the guards refused his request that independent witnesses be present.

That reprimand followed weeks of harassment that came after Druzhinin's decision to join a trade union set up at the factory, the driver alleged.

McDonald's Russia has been accused by union members of unfair, even illegal, practices in its attempt to snub the union, formed after last year's economic crisis led McDonald's to slash staff and wage levels at its Peredelkino plant.

The company has denied any wrongdoing regarding its labor practices.

"McDonald's is a fair and responsible employer who respects the wishes of our employees and always abides by local labor laws," McDonald's Russia marketing director Sarah Hall said in a company statement.

However, it has fought hard to stifle the union at birth, setting up its own workers collective council, refusing to answer a union list of claims and urging workers not to join the union.

Union organizers have also accused the firm of threatening workers with loss of benefits and of deliberately isolating and harassing known union members.

While Druzhinin's woes may be connected with the union's effort, Titova's workplace is a union-free zone.

The 24-year-old is seeking lost wages and 30,000 rubles ($1,250) in punitive damages to compensate her for what she alleges was a brutal campaign of harassment and humiliation aimed at driving her to resign from her post.

"I was pregnant and had terrible morning sickness, and they were still forcing me to work in the toilets, not letting me out for over four hours even though they knew of my condition," Titova said Wednesday.

Titova, who is currently in her ninth month of pregnancy, said that these actions were part of a campaign by Yulia Kulakova, director of McDonald's flagship Pushkin Square, to force her to quit.

That restaurant is the world's busiest McDonald's outlet, serving 20,000 customers a day.

Titova said that Kulakova, who had asked her to leave more than a year ago, was motivated by "personal enmity."

"My work hours were cut, and instead of between 1,200 to 1,500 rubles a month I received before, I was sometimes paid only about 300 rubles a month," Titova said.

McDonald's attorney on Wednesday offered Titova 600 rubles in damages for lost working hours as part of an out-of-court settlement. However, she declined the offer, insisting on a 30,000-ruble claim for emotional damages.

One of Titova's colleagues, who has agreed to stand as a witness for her case, said that there have been "dozens" of similar cases where McDonald's management mistreated staff but that most of the employees simply quit, "because they don't have Stella's patience."

Kulakova was not available for comment, and McDonald's declined further comment other than to insist that their management does not abuse staff and abides by local labor laws.

A McDonald's spokeswoman, Lisa Howard, said that there is no union or labor organization at McDonald's outlets in the United States, The Associated Press reported.