Workers for Henry’s Turkey Service were paid only $65 dollars per month to work eviscerating turkeys on an assembly line. According to the EEOC, they were lawfully entitled to be paid the average Iowa minimum wage of $11-12 per hour. Seems like a clear-cut wage claim – so why is the EEOC involved?
In a case brought by the EEOC under the ADA, an expert witness told the court that the company exploited the workers because they had intellectual disabilities, and simply did not know better. She stated that the employer’s conduct "including acts of deliberate misrepresentation" about wages and expenditures, deprived the workers of "economic independence and self-sufficiency." The company "took advantage of the workers … knowing that they would not likely be discovered because the workers were disabled."
In addition to the discriminatory pay practices, the EEOC claimed that the disabled workers were abused verbally and physically, had their freedom unnecessarily restricted, were subject to harsh punishments, required to live collectively in substandard living conditions, and received inadequate health care.
In its defense, the company contended that it should be credited with wages for providing a 100-year-old former schoolhouse known as "the bunkhouse" as living quarters, but the evidence showed that the the "bunkhouse" was closed down by fire marshals as unsafe, its heating was inadequate, it was bug and rodent-infested, and the broken roof poured water inside.
The court found that the workers, some of whom had performed the work for over 25 years, were the victims of wage discrimination, and ordered the company to pay them lawful wages totaling $1.3 million. The court left for trial the issues concerning the hostile workplace.
An EEOC attorney stated that the case “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."