An Iowa jury recently handed down what could be the largest verdict in the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s history, including a judge’s order that a turkey plant must pay 32 mentally disabled men $240 million. The jury found that Henry’s Turkey Service had violated the Americans with Disabilities Act in paying the workers $0.41 an hour while reportedly making them live in awful conditions and subjecting them to physical abuse and neglect.
After four years of working on the case, the EEOC attorney and the families of the men laid out five days of testimony about the working and living conditions the workers endured, reports the Quad City Times. The judge awarded each of the 32 workers $7.5 million for emotional and punitive damages.
“For the first time since 2009, the public, as represented by the jury, not only got to hear the whole story about these men, but fully understood the depth of the human experience they suffered,” said EEOC attorney Robert Canino.
The company hired the men and brought them to Iowa in the 1970s to work at a turkey processing plant, and its owner testified that 1,500 mentally disabled men had worked for him over a span of 45 years. He said, however, that he didn’t know how bad things were at the bunkhouse where the men lived, or that they were being physically abused.
Back in February 2009, the sister of one of the men tipped off Iowa authorities, leading to a raid on the bunkhouse. A state fire marshal subsequently ordered that it be shut down. Some of the men had already been moved to nursing homes in Texas, while the others were relocated to community-based homes.
“To me, it’s a statement that the mentally challenged are human beings, that they do count,” said the worker’s sister who had alerted Iowa Department of Human Services to the deplorable conditions the men were subjected to.
She wants the company to face criminal charges, but the Iowa Attorney General’s office won’t be pressing those charges.
“Our prosecutors felt that they could not meet the high burden of proof required in criminal court,” a spokesman said.
As for whether Henry Turkey Services (which also does business as Hill Country Farms) will actually be shelling out that cash to the workers, the EEOC is ready to make that happen — despite the fact that the company has already failed to pay $1.6 million in previous fines related to the men.
“The EEOC will bear down with all our energies to fully explore all the sources of assets of this company,” said Canino. “We’re not playing.”
$240 million awarded in ‘landmark’ Atalissa workers case [Quad City Times]