Disabled Plant Workers Awarded $240 Million In Shocking Abuse Case

 mentally disabled workers were lodged in this bunkhouse by Henry's Turkey Service.
John Schultz, The Quad City Times/Associated Press
By Ryan J. Foley

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- An Iowa jury on Wednesday awarded a total of $240 million to 32 mentally disabled Iowa turkey processing plant workers for what government lawyers described as years of around-the-clock abuse and discrimination by the Texas company that oversaw their care, work and lodging.

The federal jury in Davenport determined that Henry's Turkey Service, of Goldthwaite, Texas, violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by creating a hostile living and working environment and imposing discriminatory conditions of employment. The jury also found that the company acted with "malice or reckless indifference" to the men's civil rights.
Jurors awarded each of the men $7.5 million apiece after a weeklong trial that featured emotional testimony from social workers who described the physical and verbal abuse they suffered. That includes $5.5 million apiece in compensatory damages for their pain and suffering and $2 million apiece to punish the company for knowingly violating the law.

The company, which is now defunct, isn't expected to be able to pay anywhere near the full amount of damages. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has suggested it will go after the defunct company's assets, including up to $4 million that was transferred to founder T.H. Johnson's widow after he died in 2008.

The employees lived at a rural Iowa bunkhouse under Henry's care while they worked at the West Liberty Foods turkey processing plant, which paid Henry's to supply them under a contract that dated to the 1970s. West Liberty Foods isn't accused of any wrongdoing. Company officials said they banned a Henry's supervisor from the plant in 2007 after learning he had abused the men, but were otherwise unaware of problems.

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The EEOC sued Henry's after state officials shuttered the bunkhouse in 2009 (shown above) because of unsafe and unsanitary conditions there, including fire hazards, shoddy construction, a leaky roof, and a rodent infestation. State officials then found new caretakers for the men, many of whom were in their 50s and 60s and had medical problems that needed immediate attention.

"This was pervasive, 24/7, in every way," EEOC attorney Robert Canino said in his closing argument.

According to social workers who treated them after the home was shuttered, the men said that they had been subjected to harsh discipline and abuse at home and work by their Henry's supervisors. They said that they had been forced to work through illness and injuries, denied bathroom breaks, locked in their rooms, kicked in the groin and, in one case, handcuffed to a bed. Supervisors also subjected the men to random acts of cruelty, such making them eat hot peppers, "just for laughs," Canino said.

By 2008, Henry's was being paid more than $500,000 a year by West Liberty Foods, but was paying the men the same $65 a month that it always had, regardless of how many hours they worked. The company docked the men's wages and Social Security disability benefits, telling them it was to pay for the cost of their care and lodging.

A judge already has ordered Henry's to pay the men more than $1.3 million in back wages in the case. Henry's never applied for medical care or other services for the disabled that the men would have qualified for in Iowa.

The Iowa Attorney General's Office has declined to prosecute anyone responsible for the abuse, saying it is unlikely that criminal charges could be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

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EEOC helped me out too. Employers hate those guys....lol. I got a 10,000 settlement without paying for an attorney.

May 03 2013 at 4:20 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Whad Up Girl!

The lawyers got most of the money

May 03 2013 at 12:50 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Whad Up Girl!'s comment

40% is not most of it!

August 30 2013 at 10:58 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Is anyone surprised this happened in Texas? I would never in a million years live there with all the deregulations and lack of oversight, companies can pretty much do what they want, and they do. They've got to be the most inhumane people in the states. These men suffered at the hands of a sick man and should be compensated for what was done to them, but it sounds like their just lucky to get out alive. I hope they find some place in another state to live their lives out.

May 03 2013 at 11:10 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to snickers413's comment

It didn't happen in Texas it happened in Iowa.

August 30 2013 at 11:00 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

As a terminated employee from coca-cola , I can understand a lot of what went on with these men. I am happy that justice has been given them though it may seem they might never see a penny. The thought makes me cringe that nothing may be done to the supervisors and upper ranking people who allowed this to go on. If you are injured on the job, Comapnies do NOT take proper care to see that you are ok, but instead look to find ways to get rid of you. I have been looking for some way to fix this probelm as I am forced to sit home in pain with no wages and no-one (seemingly) to turn to. I do hope this case gets much more attention and more companies are looked into.

May 03 2013 at 9:24 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Guess the old lady will have to fork over the cash and live out HER days in abject poverty - not a bad idea.....hmmmm?????

May 03 2013 at 1:02 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Always great news when rich a-holes lose money due to greed and unfair practices.

May 02 2013 at 9:05 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

what a shame , the company is difunct and the money is gone hidden no doubt , the amount of injustce in justice

May 02 2013 at 7:44 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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