Judge orders payment of $1.3 million to former Henry’s Turkey Farm employees with intellectual disabilities

Hill Country Farms, Inc. of Goldthwaite, Texas has been ordered by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa to pay 32 men with intellectual disabilities $1.3 million for violating their rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The payments are for work done by the employees at Henry’s Turkey Service processing plant in West Liberty, Iowa between 2007 and 2009. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed the lawsuit against the company for alleged employment discrimination.

West Liberty Foods contracted with Henry’s Turkey Services paying as much as $11,000 per employee per week for their work. Henry’s Turkey Services paid severely substandard wages of $15 per week to the employees, far less than the minimum wage earned by non-disabled employees in Iowa even though they were equally productive. The men lived in a 100-year-old former schoolhouse a few miles from the plant. The schoolhouse was closed down by the state fire marshal because it was bug-infested, had rodent problems, inadequate heating, and a roof that leaked in several places. Henry’s Turkey Farm had argued that it should receive credit for having provided living quarters. Henry’s Turkey Farm deducted about $1,000 per month from each employee’s wages to cover room and board and expenses and also took out hundreds of dollars per month from each of the men’s personal Social Security SSI and disability benefit accounts to cover expenses. Some of the men had worked at the plant for over 25 years.

The EEOC’s suit also alleges that the company verbally and physically abused and harassed the men by referring to them as “retarded,” “dumb ass,” “stupid,” hitting, kicking, unnecessarily restricting their freedom, and imposing harsh punishments and requiring them to live collectively in substandard living conditions and failed to provide proper health care.  The EEOC’s trial on the remaining issues regarding mistreatment of the workers is currently scheduled for March 2013.

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