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EEOC obtains record verdict for mentally disabled workers who claimed mistreatment at turkey plant

Posted May 2, 2013 10:17 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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A federal jury in Iowa has awarded $240 million to compensate 32 mentally disabled men who claimed mistreatment while working at a turkey processing plant.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued on behalf of the men who worked at Henry’s Turkey Service in Atalissa and lived in a plant bunkhouse. After the plant deducted room and board, the workers were paid only $65 a month. The verdict is the largest in the history of the EEOC, according to a press release. The Des Moines Register, the Associated Press and Bloomberg News have stories.

According to the EEOC, the company subjected the men to verbal and physical harassment, required them to live in substandard housing and failed to provide adequate medical care. The plaintiffs had alleged they were hit and kicked, and called names such as "retarded," "dumb ass" and "stupid." A bunkhouse supervisor was accused of handcuffing one of the men to his bed as he screamed and cried, though the supervisor denied the allegation.

David Scieszinski, a lawyer for the president of Henry’s Turkey Service, said in closing arguments that the city of Atalissa was responsible for poor conditions in the bunkhouse because it was owned by the city and leased to the company, according to the Des Moines Register story. Alleged problems included a lack of central heat, fire-safety violations and a cockroach infestation that led one social worker to claim she could hear the insects in the walls.

According to the Register, the verdict is largely symbolic because Henry’s Turkey has no more than $4 million in assets and the damages go beyond the amount allowed by law.

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