McDonald's says keeping children safe is a top priority. But our exclusive NewsChannel 5 investigation found one case that critics say speaks volumes about how much the company is really doing to protect kids.
Click here to read the first statement from McDonald's corporate office about the allegations in this story. Click here to read a statement from a Tennessee McDonald's franchise owner regarding the incident that occurred in Franklin.
The federal government has sued McDonald’s franchises in Arizona, Arkansas and New Mexico for failing to protect teens from sex harassment and assault. Click a state to read more about these cases.
Some viewers have asked how they can contact McDonald's regarding this story. Click here to do so.
"It was my first job," says Adam Szczesny.
"I was really excited about it. I felt like an adult because adults go to work."
Adam was just 15 when he went to work under the golden arches.
"We were going to make money during the summer," says Damian Serafin, who was also 15.
But they tell NewsChannel 5's chief investigative reporter Phil Williams that it wasn't the all-American teen "first job" experience touted by McDonald's in its commercials.
"It wasn't the best experience. In fact, it was the worst experience."
The boys say, at their first job, they were molested.
"I wanted to have a first job where I could look back on it and actually be able to tell people what my first job was like," Adam says. "Now I just can't do that."
Abbie Sutherlin's son, Mark, was also 15 -- and working at the same McDonald's in Hillsborough, New Jersey -- when one day he broke the news.
"He told us that he had been molested by his boss," Sutherlin recalls.
"You think your child is safe. You think he's OK. And then you find out, boy were you wrong."
Their boss was 20-year-old assistant manger Joshua Diaz.
The families' lawyer says Diaz was more aggressive with some kids than others.
"In some instances, Mr. Diaz would touch their legs, pat them on their rear end," the lawyer, Bill Courtney, says.
"In other instances, he would corner them in a certain room at McDonald's and kiss them or touch them."
Damian says, "It wasn't easy telling anybody about this."
He was the first to go to police about Diaz - something that the other boys at the McDonald's had been afraid to do.
"I felt that he could have had me kicked out of there within a second if I opened my mouth," Adam recalls.
"That being my first job, I was really scared to lose it."
Diaz was arrested, and three years ago a jury convicted him of aggravated criminal sexual contact and endangering the welfare of a child.
The judge sentenced him to 90 days in jail, saying Diaz "never understood the seriousness" of what he did. (Read the judge's order)
"It just changed my whole outlook," Adam adds.
But what Diaz did to the kids wasn't enough to end his McDonald's career.
"He was terminated from the corporate owned McDonald's, but he was hired by a franchisee -- I believe it was in six days," Courtney says.
"Six days?" Phil Williams asks.
"Six days -- he was back under the golden arches."
In fact, we found the convicted sex offender running a McDonald's franchise, less than 10 miles away from the restaurant where he had molested the boys.
"He shouldn't have a job anywhere near kids right now," Adam says.
Abbie Sutherlin asks, "How do they allow this to continue? How do they stand behind somebody who's convicted of this crime?"
Even though McDonald's corporate fired Diaz, they then turned around and accepted him here into their management training program at the corporate headquarters.
They say they did that because that's who the local franchisee wanted.
"They've taken the position that they don't have any say over who their franchisees hire," Courtney explains.
It's the same position they've adopted about all the child molesters and other sex offenders that our investigation discovered working at other McDonald's franchises.
"At the end of the day, he's still working for McDonald's," Damian says.
Sutherlin argues, "They control how big the hamburger is, how much it weighs, the size of the bun. They can't control who they employ?"
But outside corporate offices near Chicago, we were suddenly confronted by McDonald's security, who had apparently decided that we were the real security risk.
"I'm curious," Phil Williams tells the security personnel who confronted him.
"Everyone's so concerned about security at the headquarters, what about child molesters in the restaurants?"
Adam says, "It's a really horrific experience of a first job."
These victims say if McDonald's is going to use ads like the "My First Job" commercial to attract kids to work under the golden arches, it has a responsibility to ensure that they won't be working with sex offenders who have a history of abusing children.
"Nobody should have to experience what my son did," Sutherlin says.
"That it happened to my son makes me angry. That it continues makes me so incredibly sad and worried for every other child."
To add insult to injury, when Diaz was sentenced, he had a letter of support from the owner of the McDonald's franchise that hired him. It praised him as being a trustworthy employee. (Read the letter)
And this incident may not be so isolated.
The federal government has sued McDonald's franchisees in at least three states for not doing enough to protect young teen employees.