A Davenport, Iowa, jury awarded the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity just yesterday the largest-ever verdict in the agency’s history — more than $240 million — in a case involving the long-term abuse of workers with intellectual disabilities.
The class-action case against Hill Country Farms Inc., doing business as Henry’s Turkey Services, was actually covered by me back in April 2011 in this news analysis. Here, too, is the ruling by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa, Davenport Division, in September 2012, granting the EEOC partial summary judgment to move forward and also ordering the Goldthwaite, Texas, company to pay the workers $1.3 million for unlawful disability-based wage discrimination.
Coupled with yesterday’s awards of $2 million and $5.5 million for each of the 32 mentally disabled turkey processing-plant workers, for punitive and compensatory damages, respectively, the total judgment — to be exact — comes to $241.3.
The links above, along with this release by the EEOC, spell out all the sad, sordid details of this now-historic case. But just to recap here, the EEOC lawsuit says that, for many years, the owners and staffers of Henry’s Turkey subjected the workers to abusive verbal and physical harassment; restricted their freedom of movement; and imposed other harsh terms and conditions of employment, such as requiring them to live in deplorable and substandard living conditions, and failing to provide adequate medical care when needed.
The EEOC also claims verbal abuses, including frequently referring to the workers as “retarded,” “dumb ass” and “stupid.” Members of the class reported acts of physical abuse as well, including hitting, kicking, at least one case of handcuffing, forcing the men to carry heavy weights as punishment and being dismissive of complaints of injuries or pain.
“The verdict sends an important message that the conduct that occurred here is intolerable in this nation, and hopefully will help to restore dignity and acknowledge the humanity of workers who were mistreated for so many years,” says EEOC Chair Jacqueline A. Berrien.
According to this Fox News account, an attorney for Henry’s didn’t respond to a message seeking comment. But the company’s president, Kenneth Henry, told the Quad-City Times after the trial that he planned to appeal, calling some of the evidence “terribly exaggerated.”
The news account also says it’s highly unlikely the now-defunct Henry’s Turkey Service has anywhere near enough remaining assets to cover the $7.5 million in damages each man was just awarded.
“Do you think I can write a check for that?” Kenneth Henry, 72, the company’s president, told the newspaper.
But federal officials are vowing to recover every last cent they can for the men, who had been “virtually enslaved” for many years, according to developmental psychologist Sue Gant, who interviewed them at length for the EEOC, the account states.