EEOC obtains $240 million dollar verdict for abused workers.

Every time you tell yourself you have seen the last of these stories…

An Iowa City, Iowa jury awarded a record $241 million dollars to a group of 32 workers who had been systematically abused for decades by a Texas employer. The employer, Hill County Farms, d/b/a Henry’s Turkey Service, is based in Goldthwaite, Texas. The work and abuse however, took place in rural Iowa. The workers lived in a bunkhouse in Muscatine County, Iowa. They worked at at Henry’s Turkey Service, a turkey processing plant in a nearby Iowa town. What makes this story particularly horrible is that each of the workers suffered some form of mental disability. The picture above shows a few of the workers who lived in the Iowa bunkhouse [Photo courtesy of the Desmoines Register].

Back in the 1970’s, Texas officials promoted Henry’s as a company that would provide training to the mentally challenged. Henry’s sent hundreds of men to live in labor camps in Iowa and other locations over the years. But the conditions under which the workers lived were often deplorable. The Iowa bunkhouse was overrun with cockroaches and mice. Windows didn’t function. The only heat came for sporadic placement of water heaters. After receiving complaints from relatives in 2009, the State of Iowas inspected the bunkhouse, found it to be a fire hazard and declared it uninhabitable.

And things didn’t get any better for the workers once they got to the plant. The EEOC presented disturbing evidence that Henry’s personnel exploited the workers because their mental disabilities precluded them from fully understanding what was happening. The abuse, which had taken place for years, was both verbal and physical. Workers were struck, kicked and sometimes handcuffed. Supervisors who were supposed to act as guardians, dismissed complaints of pain or injury.

Henry’s personnel even stole the workers’ money. They improperly deducted monies from the workers’ paychecks and Social Security benefits in order to pay for the cost of their care. Ultimately the workers received only $65 a month for grueling work under ghastly conditions. The equivalent of .41 cents an hour.

At the conclusion of the case, the jury agreed that Henry’s had subjected the men to severe abuse and discrimination between 2007 and 2009. The jury awarded each of the men $2 million in punitive damages and $5.5 million in compensatory damages. In September, 2012, the judge had ruled that Henry’s was to pay $1.3 million for disability-based wage discrimination. The total judgement ends up at $241.3 million.

Henry’s is now a defunct company and it is unlikely the full verdict will ever be paid. But the company still owns significant real estate in Texas and the government has its eyes on that land.

Congratulations to EEOC attorney Robert Canino who did great work on behalf of the workers.