A federal judge in Iowa has ordered a company based in Texas to pay $1.76 million to former mentally disabled workers at a turkey plant. The US Department of Labor was granted a partial summary judgment against Hill Country Farms doing business as Henry’s Turkey Service. Henry’s housed the mentally disabled men in a dilapidated bunkhouse – which was eventually closed by the Fire Marshall.
The judge’s decision says the employer failed to pay the men in accordance with the Fair Labor Standards Act. See San Antonio Express-News report. The company violated the minimum wage and overtime provisions of the FLSA. The mentally ill men, in their 50’s and 60’s lived in the bunkhouse with boarded up windows and space heaters for heat. Henry’s charged for room and board – the amount went up each year, while the wages remained the same. The employer paid no more than $65 per week for each worker for some 20 years. The amount was apparently based on the maximum amount allowed under Social Security regulations that would not trigger a decrease in benefits. Yet, the men worked 40 hours per week and more. See second San Antonio Express-News report.
The judge ordered the employer to pay $881,000 in back wages and an equal amount in liquidated damages for a total of $1.76 million.
in a separate action, the EEOC has also filed suit alleging discrimination and harassment against the 31 men.
It takes a cold employer to abuse the most vulnerable in our society.