An Iowa jury has awarded $240 million to mentally disabled workers who claimed that they were abused and exploited at an Iowa turkey factory.
In a lawsuit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, a federal jury ruled that Hill Country Farms, doing business as Henry’s Turkey Service, discriminated against 32 employees with mental disabilities and placed them in an unlawful hostile environment.
The abuses allegedly occurred at Iowa facilities owned by the company from 2007 to 2009. However, the EEOC has indicated that similar abuses had occurred for 20 years prior, according to a press release issued following the verdict.
The workers, men who eviscerated turkeys, were allegedly subjected to verbal and physical harrassment and had their freedoms restricted. The EEOC claimed the men were also forced to live in deplorable and sub-standard living conditions to keep their jobs and were denied necessary medical care.
According to the EEOC, the men were forced to live in a 100-year-old former schoolhouse that was infested with rodents and bugs, had inadequate heating and a leaking roof. It was shut down for unsafe conditions by the state fire marshall. The men were also only paid $65 per month, compared to the $11 to $12 per hour wage paid to non-disabled workers.
The verdict, which the EEOC claims is the largest of its kind in history. awarded each of the men $2 million in punitive damages and $5.5 million in compensatory damages.
“These men suffered isolation and exploitation for many years, while their employer cruelly consumed the fruits of their labor,” said EEOC attorney Robert A. Canino in the press release. “Our society has come a long way in learning how persons with intellectual disabilities should be fully integrated into the mainstream workplace, without having to compromise their human dignity.”
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability. The EEOC says it first tried to address the claims through a settlement, but those efforts failed.
Henry’s Turkey Service ceased operations in February 2009.