ATALISSA, Iowa – A federal jury awarded 32 mentally disabled men $240 million for discrimination and abuse they suffered while employed by Henry's Turkey Service in Atalissa, Iowa, according to The Des Moines Register. It is the largest verdict ever obtained by the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
The award is viewed as largely symbolic because the Henry's Turkey Service has no more than $4 million in assets, according to The Register report.
The 32 men sued Henry's alleging harassment and discriminatory employment conditions at the company's labor camp. The men were sent from Texas to Iowa to work in a West Liberty Foods meat processing plant. They were housed in a 100-year-old school building that had been converted to a bunk house. The men were paid 41 cents an hour.
The building had fire-code violations, no central heat and was infested with cockroaches. The lawsuit also alleged the men were deliberately denied medical care because Henry's had chosen not to provide them with disability services or access to Iowa Medicaid. The company also lacked a license to care for disabled adults, according to The Register.
The verdict includes $5.5 million in compensatory damages for each of the workers or their estates, in addition to $2 million each in punitive damages. The 32 men worked for the company from 2007 to 2009.
An investigation by The Des Moines Register resulted in the company's closure in 2009.