The EEOC is the primary government agency enforcing labor laws that deal with discrimination. While still understaffed from the Bush years, in my experience the EEOC can investigate workplace issues with the best of them. I can’t imagine some of the details they uncovered in this case.
IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — A jury on Wednesday awarded $240 million to 32 mentally disabled men for what government lawyers say was years of abuse by a Texas company that arranged for them to work at an Iowa turkey processing plant and oversaw their care, work and lodging.
The award handed out by a federal jury in Davenport was the largest ever given in the 48-year history of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which filed the lawsuit against Henry’s Turkey Service.
The jury determined that the now-defunct Goldthwaite, Texas, company had violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by creating a hostile environment and imposing discriminatory conditions of employment on the men. It found that Henry’s acted with “malice or reckless indifference” to their civil rights, and awarded each man $7.5 million in damages.
These men worked there since the 1970s and received $65/month (or .41 cents/hour). No raise. Because capitalism. During this time, no one from the company developed a conscience and alerted authorities. Maybe because the perks were so awesome?
The abuse was uncovered in 2009 after one of the men’s sisters tipped off Iowa officials to the unsafe and unsanitary conditions at the rural bunkhouse where the men were housed. State inspectors found the building, which is a several miles from the West Liberty plant where the men worked, to be falling apart, infested with rodents and full of fire hazards, so they shut it down and placed the men with new caretakers. The EEOC later sued.
Social workers testified that the men described a life of constant abuse by their Henry’s handlers. They said they had been forced to work through illness and injuries, denied bathroom breaks, locked in their rooms, kicked in the groin and, in one case, handcuffed to a bed. [...]
Rain entered their bedrooms through failing windows and made their beds wet. Supervisors forced them to walk in circles carrying heavy weights as punishment. Supervisors picked on a man who had a brace on his leg, often pushing him down. Another man had been kicked in the groin and was found with “testicles that were quite swollen.” Others were often locked in their bedrooms at night, said [Sue Gant, a developmental psychologist who interviewed the men.]
So how does something like this happen?
Henry’s began employing mentally disabled men in the 1960s and 1970s who had been released from Texas mental institutions. Hundreds of them were sent to labor camps in Iowa and elsewhere in the coming decades, where they were supplied on contract as workers to local employers. Company officials argued the arrangement was a benefit to the men, and that they were once praised for giving them employment opportunities.
Huzzah Henry’s! So don’t worry guys, criminal charges won’t be filed. Just ask company president Kenneth Henry (that’s the company’s name!). The defense’s only witness testified that he didn’t know anything for 40 years except for the terrible things he knew about.
Kenneth Henry, 72, of Proctor, Texas, also denied allegations that the workers — whom he repeatedly referred to as “the boys,” although most were in their 40s, 50s and 60s — were routinely abused or neglected.
But when asked whether he had exercised good judgment by allowing one of his supervisors to continue working with the men after others said they had witnessed the supervisor physically abusing workers, Henry replied, “Probably not.”
The company president also revealed that a worker who lived in the Iowa bunkhouse froze to death in the 1980s.
I see. You “didn’t know about it” just like Joe Paterno “didn’t know about it.” Well maybe you can get cancer and die soon too!
“I never had any complaints from the boys,” he testified. “If something was going on, I feel they most definitely would have said something to me.”
It’s their fault for being mentally disabled and their fault for not speaking up in a timely manner and their fault for not knowing how to report abuse to authorities. Rot.
Well at least the silver lining is that this company will be soaked, the victims compensated and future corporate abuse and malfeasance will be deterred.
The defunct company isn’t expected to be able to pay anywhere near the full amount of damages. The EEOC will work with the U.S. Department of Justice to examine company assets that could be seized to pay toward the judgment, including more than 1,000 acres of land in Texas worth up to $4 million, [EEOC attorney Robert] Canino said.
and we wept.