Tuesday, May 7, 2013

EEOC Obtains Its Largest Verdict in History

In a case of purely horrific facts that border on unbelievable comes good news from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission who announced it obtained its largest verdict in the agency's history in correcting this tremendous wrong done to mentally-disabled workers at an Iowa turkey service facility.  The jury award was for $240 million!

From the EEOC's press release on the historic verdict:
EEOC presented evidence to the jury that Henry's Turkey exploited these workers, whose jobs involved eviscerating turkeys, because their intellectual disabilities made them particularly vulnerable and unaware of the extent to which their legal rights were being denied. The affected men lived in Muscatine County, Iowa, where they worked for 20 years as part of a contract between Henry's Turkey and West Liberty Foods, an Iowa turkey processing plant....Specifically, the EEOC presented evidence that for years and 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 sub-standard living conditions, and failing to provide adequate medical care when needed.
Verbal abuses included frequently referring to the workers as "retarded," "dumb ass" and "stupid."  Class members reported acts of physical abuse including hitting, kicking, at least one case of handcuffing, and forcing the disabled workers to carry heavy weights as punishment.  The Henry's Turkey supervisors, also the workers' purported caretakers, were often dismissive of complaints of injuries or pain. 
"These men suffered isolation and exploitation for many years, while their employer cruelly consumed the fruits of their labor," said Robert A. Canino, regional attorney of the EEOC's Dallas District Office, which tried the case.  "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."
On top of this historic verdict, the EEOC also sued Henry's Turkey for the disparate pay these disabled workers received.  The EEOC earlier won a $1.3 million wage discrimination judgment when Senior U.S. District Court Judge Charles R. Wolle found that, rather than the total of $65 dollars per month Henry's Turkey paid to the disabled workers while contracted to work on an evisceration line at the plant, the employees should have been compensated at the average wage of $11-12 per hour, reflecting pay typically earned by workers without intellectual disabilities who performed the same or similar work.  The EEOC's wage claims for each worker ranged from $28,000 to $45,000 in lost income over the course of their last two years before the Henry's Turkey Service operation was shut down in February 2009.

Truly a sad story with a great ending.  Congratulations, EEOC!

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