In May of this year, a federal jury in Iowa sent a $240-million-dollar message to any company that believes it can take advantage of intellectually-disabled workers without suffering the consequences – think again. The award came at the conclusion of a disability discrimination suit brought by 32 men with intellectual disabilities who worked for the defendant company, Hill Country Farms.
The federal jury found that Hill Country Farms, doing business as Henry’s Turkey Service, violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) by directing verbal abuse and physical harassment at the intellectually-disabled works, housing them in a sub-standard dormitory, ignoring their complaints about injuries, and forcing them to carry heavy weights as punishment.
The outrageous mistreatment went on for more than 30 years, according to the lawsuit. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) described the case as “a story of the loss of human dignity”featuring mind-blowingdiscrimination and exploitation. The men lived in a decaying old schoolhouse that was converted to a dorm known as the “Bunkhouse.”They were paid $65 a month for working at least 35 hours a week. At that rate, their pay amounted to about 46 cents per hour. Unbelievable.
The defendants argued that theworkers’ pay equaledminimum wage after room-and-board and care were factored in, but the company took approximately $487-dollars-per-month from theworkers’ Social Security payments for “expenses.” Whatever the “expenses” were, they must not have included maintaining the workers’ housing because, in 2009, the Iowa Fire Marshal shut the “Bunkouse” down for unsafe, unclean and unhealthy conditions like a leaky roof and insect infestation.
During the trial, evidence was presented that supervisors called the workers “retarded,” “dumb ass” and “stupid.” The workers also suffered physical abuse. They were kicked, hit, handcuffed. This case offered horrific accounts of a company that treated hard-working but vulnerable intellectually-disabled persons like animals. The workers were treated like property to be used without regard for their human dignity. The jury’s award should be a warning to any employer who thinks it can get away with taking advantage of workers with disabilities.
If you are disabled or your employer perceives you as being disabled; and you have been fired, wrongfully terminated, discriminated against, demoted, wrongfully disciplined, denied wages, or even think that you might need a disability discrimination lawyer, then call the right attorney to schedule a free and confidential consultation at 866-797-6040. The best option is not to wait. The Spitz Law Firm and its attorneys are experienced and dedicated to protecting disables employees’ rights under ADA and Ohio law.
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