A federal judge has ruled a Texas company that profited for decades by supplying mentally disabled workers to an Iowa turkey plant at wages of 41 cents per hour must pay the men $1.37 million in back wages. The judgment against Henry’s Turkey Service of Goldthwaite, Texas is the third judgment in excess of $1 million against the company. In 2009 state authorities shut down a dilapidated bunkhouse in rural Iowa where the men had lived since the 1970s. U.S. District Judge Charles Wolle ruled that the 32 employees had been paid $65 per month to work the processing line at a huge turkey plant in West Liberty after Henry’s improperly deducted fees for room and board, care, transportation and other expenses out of their pay and Social Security checks. The judge found that the amount they were paid never changed during the entire 30-year period they worked at the plant, regardless of whether they worked more than 40 hours per week.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission had sued, alleging that Hill Country Farms violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by paying the workers discriminatory wages. Judge Wolle ordered a trial in March on the rest of the claims in the EEOC’s lawsuit. It will include claims that the men faced a hostile work environment, harassment, verbal and physical abuse and other “adverse terms and conditions of employment” because of their disabilities. It was reported that Hill Country Farms, which did business as Henry’s Turkey Service, offered little resistance to EEOC’s wage claims. The company had been on contract to supply workers to the plant starting in the 1970s when it was owned by Louis Rich Foods. By 2008, the company’s contract with owner West Liberty Foods was worth more than $500,000 for work performed by the men in the evisceration department.
Judge Wolle said the company “engaged in unlawful and discriminatory pay practices” that deprived workers of wages they earned. He said the $1.37 million represents how much more the intellectually disabled workers should have been paid between February 2007 and February 2009 for their work, based on wage rates paid to similarly-situated and experienced workers. Despite their disabilities, the workers “performed as productively and effectively as non-disabled workers doing the same jobs,” he ruled. Even though they’d been there decades, the law limits their recovery to the two-year period before the violations were reported.
Several of the workers were employed at the bunkhouse, a converted former schoolhouse a few miles from the plant that Hill Country Farms rented from the city of Atalissa for $600 per month. It was shut down after investigators found substandard construction and other unsafe living conditions, a leaky roof and insect infestation. The U.S. Department Labor earlier won a $1.76 million judgment against Henry’s on behalf of the workers for violating wage and overtime laws, and Iowa Workforce Development issued a $1.2 million fine against the company for violating state labor laws.
The company had agreed to change its wage practices in 2003 following a federal investigation, but it never did so, according to Judge Wolle. The Iowa Attorney General’s Office last year declined to bring criminal charges against the company or its owners, Kenneth Henry and Jane Ann Johnson, saying it felt that the civil penalties sought by regulators were enough to hold them accountable. This case is more like a horror story than a lawsuit.
Source: Insurance Journal
Contact us today for a free legal consultation with an experienced attorney.
Fields marked *may be required for submission.
If you would like to subscribe to the Jere Beasley Report digital edition, simply visit our Subscriptions page and provide the necessary information or call us at 800-898-2034.
Attorney Advertising - Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.