A $240M Win for Disabled Workers 'Treated Like Cattle'

Defunct turkey plant in Iowa ordered to pay damages to 32 workers
By Matt Cantor,  Newser Staff
Posted May 2, 2013 9:28 AM CDT
A $240M Win for Disabled Workers 'Treated Like Cattle'
This Feb. 11, 2009 photo shows the former school and Quonset hut that housed mentally disabled men.   (AP Photo/The Quad City Times, John Schultz)

A now-defunct turkey plant accused of abusing its workers for decades has been ordered to pay $240 million in damages to 32 of its former employees. The men, who were granted $7.5 million each, were among hundreds of mentally disabled Henry's Turkey Service workers sent from Texas to a labor camp in Iowa, the Des Moines Register reports. They earned 41 cents an hour working in a meat-processing plant and lived in a 100-year-old former school building where they "were treated like cattle—like company property," says a witness for the prosecution. The decades-long operation ended after the Register began investigating living conditions in 2009.

The company didn't have a license for disabled care, and men didn't receive disability services or health insurance. "If the eyes of Iowa saw what was happening ... the party was going to be over," a lawyer said. The bunkhouse supervisor was accused of handcuffing one man to a bed; reports also suggested men were beaten after breaking rules. The success of the lawsuit, brought by US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on behalf of the 32 men (only workers from the plant's final two years of operation were eligible), is "a groundbreaking advancement" showing "the men have value that is equal to people without disabilities," the witness notes. (Read more disability stories.)

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