Due to a provision in federal law, the $240 million jury award for employment discrimination and harassment that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) won for 32 men with intellectual disability may have to be reduced to $50,000 each. A jury in Iowa awarded the larger sum to the men based on the harm they suffered while employed at a turkey processing plant in Iowa. The jury’s verdict was the largest verdict ever obtained by the EEOC in an employment discrimination case under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The Iowa jury’s recognition of the inherent value of the lives of individuals with intellectual disability was historic. However, the Civil Rights Act of 1991 limits damages for discrimination to $50,000 for punitive and compensatory damages combined in cases where the employers have 15 to 100 employees. If the award is reduced by the court, it will not affect the $1.37 million award the men won previously due to wage discrimination. Despite the fact the Henry’s Turkey Service is believed to have no more than $4 million in assets, EEOC has pledged to pursue the men’s awards vigorously. Kenneth Henry, president of Henry’s, has said he will appeal the decision.
Over four decades, Henry’s sent hundreds of men who had disabilities from Texas to Iowa to work at a West Liberty meat-processing plant for wages far below minimum wage. The men lived in a 100-year-old former school building that had been converted to a bunkhouse. Federal law limited EEOC to the final two years of Henry’s operation which limited the number of workers who could claim compensation. Henry’s has been fined by the US Department of Labor and Iowa Workforce Development for labor law violations for a total of $2.96 million. To read The Arc’s statement, visit our website.