A turkey processing company has been ordered by a federal court to pay $1.3 million to 32 workers with intellectual disabilities who were paid "severely substandard" wages, said the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on Sept. 19.
The agency said Goldthwaite, Texas-based Hill Country Farms Inc., which does business as Henry's Turkey Service, "exploited a class of disabled workers because their intellectual impairments made them vulnerable and unaware of the extent to which their legal rights were being violated."
On Sept. 18, Judge Charles R. Wolfe of federal district court for the southern district of Iowa in Davenport ordered Hill Country to pay the $1.3 million to the workers for jobs they performed under contract at a turkey processing plant in West Liberty, Iowa, between 2007 and 2009, according to the EEOC.
Judge Wolfe found that the workers were paid $65 per month instead of the average wage of $11-$12 per hour, which is the pay typically earned by nondisabled workers who perform the same or similar work, said the EEOC. The EEOC said some of the workers had performed the work for more than 25 years. The Henry's Turkey Service operation was shut down in February 2009, according to the EEOC.
The EEOC said Henry's maintained it should be credited with wages for providing a 100-year-old former schoolhouse as living quarters, but the agency submitted evidence that the bunkhouse "was closed down by the state fire marshal as unsafe, its heating was inadequate, the bug-infested building had rodent problems and the roof was in such disrepair that buckets were put out to catch water pouring in."
Commenting on the ruling, Robert A. Canino, regional attorney for the EEOC's Dallas district office, said in a statement, "I believe that this positive result furthers the ongoing discussion about how far our country has come in promoting and supporting employment opportunities for persons with mental, intellectual and developmental disabilities.
"Unfortunately, this case also reflects the sad reality that we still have a ways to go to ensure that employment of persons with disabilities does not require them to sacrifice their true earning capacity or their human dignity."
The company's attorney could not immediately be reached for comment.