Record $240M Award for Abuse of Disabled Workers Slashed to $1.6M

The bunkhouse at Henry's Turkey Service

The "house of horrors" bunk house at Henry's Turkey Service

A jury verdict earlier this month to mentally disabled workers who were abused and forced to live in a “house of horrors” has been drastically slashed after trial.

A federal law that limits damages will cut the jury’s award from $240 million to $1.6 million.

After deciding that Texas-based turkey processing plant Henry’s Turkey Service subjected the workers to abuse, discrimination and physical punishment at home and at work, the jury awarded $7.5 million to each of the 32 workers.

The federal law will cut it to $50,000 each. This is because businesses that employ 100 employees or less can only be ordered to pay a maximum of $50,000 per worker for compensatory and punitive damages under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Henry’s brought in hundreds of mentally disabled workers between the 1970s and 2009, when officials shut down the rodent-infested and structurally dangerous bunkhouse where the men lived.

The men will also get back pay based on the judge’s earlier finding that for decades Henry’s paid the men 41 cents per hour and excessively docked their pay for the cost of housing and care. During this time, Henry’s was collecting over $500,000 per year under a contract in which Henry’s supplied the workers to West Liberty Foods.

Each man will be entitled to between $34,000 to $54,000 in back pay depending on how many years they worked. But the most a worker can collect in back pay under the federal law is two years.

Disability rights attorney Steven Schwartz said the case is an example of “grossly unfair” results of arbitrary limits on damages.

“Terrible things happened to these men. The people who caused it did so intentionally and with an understanding of the consequences. The harm that the men experienced was worth $240 million,” he said. “There’s no change in that reality, as a judgment of the jurors as to the value of their lives and their bodies and soul.”

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