Protecting the Vulnerable

Thursday, June 2, 2011
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A lawsuit filed against a turkey processor is being seen by experts as a disturbing reminder that employers can't be too careful when it comes to protecting their employees with intellectual and cognitive disabilities.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission charged Goldthwaite, Texas-based Hill Country Farms, doing business as Henry's Turkey Service, that it moved 31 mentally challenged workers from their homes, placed them in substandard living conditions, restrained their freedom, subjected them to severe verbal abuse and paid them only $65 a month for full-time work.

A similar lawsuit was filed by the U.S. Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division.

The suit also accuses Henry's Turkey supervisors of taking the workers' Social Security checks as payment for housing and food. The EEOC is requesting a jury trial to determine compensatory and punitive damages as well as back pay.

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Calls to Henry's Turkey Service were not returned. A spokesman from Hill Country Farms says his company was not involved in the alleged abuses.

The DOL obtained a partial resolution of its case at the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa, which found that the company willfully violated the Fair Labor Standards Act, and ordered the defendants to pay $880,777 in back wages, along with an equal amount in damages of more than $1.76 million.

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