Washington, DC – Earlier this week a Davenport, Iowa jury awarded damages totaling $240 million to 32 men with intellectual and developmental disabilities who worked for Henry’s Turkey Service in Atalissa for decades. It was the largest verdict in the history of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which filed the case, for disability discrimination and unlawful harassment. Just one day after hearing closing arguments, the jury agreed with the EEOC that Henry’s Turkey Service subjected the men to severe harassment and discrimination that warranted punitive and compensatory damages for each man.
“While this verdict is a victory for the workers who can feel triumph knowing that the abuse they faced did not go unpunished, it’s also a harsh reminder to the disability movement that we must continue to be vigilant in this modern era of progressive employment practices to guard against these kinds of atrocities. The abuse of these men didn’t end decades ago – it was still going on as recently as 2009, and that is unacceptable. I applaud the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for their pursuit of justice for people with disabilities in the workplace and urge them to continue this important work. Individuals with disabilities have the right to work in a safe work environment free of exploitation, and this verdict sends a message that this kind of abuse will not be tolerated,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.
Last year, EEOC claimed that Henry’s Turkey Service violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by paying 32 workers with intellectual disabilities severely substandard wages. The company denied the workers their full wages by claiming a “credit” for substandard living conditions. In September 2012, a district court judge ordered the company to pay its former employees a total of $1.3 million for jobs they performed at a turkey processing plant in West Liberty, Iowa between 2007 and 2009 for about 41 cents an hour. Combining last year’s ruling and this week’s verdict, the total judgment in this case is $241.3 million.