According to the Texas Governor's Office for People with Disabilities, Hill Country Farms Inc., doing business as Henry's Turkey Service ("Henry's Turkey") violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by paying 32 workers with intellectual disabilities severely substandard wages, a judge ruled in an EEOC lawsuit. The court ordered the company, based in Goldthwaite, Texas, to pay its former employees lawful wages totaling $1.3 million for jobs they performed under contract at a turkey processing plant in West Liberty, Iowa, between 2007 and 2009.
The EEOC alleged in the lawsuit (No. 3:11-cv-00041 , filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa, Davenport Division,) that Henry's Turkey 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.
In this latest ruling, Senior U.S. District Court Judge Charles R. Wolle found that, rather than the total of $65 dollars per month Henry's Turkey paid to the disabled workers while contracted to work on an evisceration line at the plant, the employees should have been compensated at the average wage of $11-12per hour, reflecting pay typically earned by non-disabled workers who performed the same or similar work. The EEOC's wage claims for each worker ranged from $28,000 to $45,000 in lost income over the course of their last two years before the Henry's Turkey Service operation was shut down in February 2009.
This case reflects the Commission's longstanding commitment to enforce the antidiscrimination laws nationwide on behalf of all workers, including workers with intellectual disabilities and other vulnerable communities," said P. David Lopez, General Counsel of the EEOC.
"It is a serious mistake for any employer not to adopt safeguards against unlawful discrimination based on the assumption that workers will not exercise their rights due to fear or the lack of understanding."
"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," said Robert A. Canino, regional attorney for
the Dallas District Office of the EEOC, who is litigating the case. "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."
In its motion for partial summary judgment, the EEOC argued that Henry's Turkey Service was not justified in paying disabled workers wages that were lower than the minimum wage for Iowa where they lived and worked, and that the disabled workers, some of whom had performed the work for over 25 years, were due the same wage rate as non-disabled workers. In support of its motion, EEOC included the statement of a West Liberty Foods supervisor, who stated that the contracted Henry's workers were as productive as other workers in the plant, and that they actually demonstrated their knowledge and skills to persons who were being hired to replace them as the Henry's Turkey contract operations were winding down.
The EEOC also submitted evidence from West Liberty Foods records showing that while the plant paid Henry's Turkey Service as much as $11,000 per week for the work performed by the crew of 25-30 disabled men, Henry's paid the men only an average of $15per week each.