$240M to Disabled Workers Abused in Company’s ‘House Of Horrors’
A turkey processing company has been ordered by a jury to pay a whopping $240 million for paying mentally disabled workers 41 cents per hour and housing them in a rodent-infested “house of horrors.”
The award will be divided evenly among 32 mentally disabled workers who worked for Henry’s Turkey Service in Atalissa, Iowa.
The lawsuit alleged the company violated federal law protecting workers with disabilities and that the men were abused, harshly disciplined, including being kicked in the groin, denied bathroom breaks and forced to work even when they were sick or injured.
Over a period of 40 years, company owner Kenneth Henry, 72, brought hundreds of disabled workers from Texas to Iowa to work. The mentally disabled men were paid 41 cents an hour and lived in a bunkhouse that the state shut down in 2009 as unsafe, poorly constructed and rodent-infested.
The sister of one of the workers called the 100-year-old building a “house of horrors” that her brother still has nightmares about.
Evidence at trial showed the the supervisor of the bunkhouse handcuffed one of the workers to his bed at night and left him screaming and crying. The supervisor denied it when he testified.
A social worker also testified that some workers were punished by being forced to walk around a pole in a garage while their caretakers hit, kicked and yelled at them.
The lawsuit was brought by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, a federal agency with authority to sue for workplace discrimination.
EEOC attorney Robert Canino asked the jury to compensate the “valiant men” for “their broken hearts, broken spirits, shattered dreams and, ultimately their broken lives.”
He accused the company of deliberately denying health and disability coverage to hide what was going on, resulting in some of the men not seeing a doctor or dentist for years.
“If the eyes of Iowa saw what was happening, if the eyes of Iowa got inside that bunkhouse … If anybody caught on to that, the party was going to be over,” Canino said.
A jury came back with the historic award that gives each man $7.5 million, finding that Henry’s acted with malice or reckless indifference.
However, Henry’s is now defunct and is likely to cry poor when it comes to paying up.
But Canino said the government is already looking into possibly fraudulent transfers of money from the company and will “explore every option” to get the company to pay the verdict.
Henry’s also owes judgments of $1.8 million to the U.S. Department of Labor for labor law violations, $1.2 million to the state of Iowa for state labor law violations, and $1.3 million to the EEOC for wage violations.
Sherri Brown, whose brother lived in the bunkhouse broke down after the verdict.
“I wanted the jury to make a statement so that my brother Keith and all of those men would know that someone had heard them,” she said. “And if this isn’t a statement, I don’t know what is.”