A Texas company made national news this week as a very shameful disability discrimination case came to a close. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued Henry’s Turkey Service years ago for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act in its treatment of intellectually disabled workers at one of its labor camps, and now a jury has awarded the victims in this case $240 million. This has been called a landmark case as it is the biggest jury verdict ever obtained by the EEOC, and potentially the largest jury verdict to come out of any Americans with Disabilities Act claim.
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, employers are barred from discriminating against workers or applicants on the basis of a disability–be it real or perceived. In this particular case, the allegations were far more extreme than what is typically alleged in ADA cases. Nonetheless, it shows that disability discrimination exists, and that it is important for the ADA to be enforced and for employers to be held accountable when they violate the employment rights and civil rights of workers.
The Texas company in this case apparently sent disabled men to work and live at various labor camps in different states since the 1970s. One camp in Iowa was investigated by state authorities in 2009 after the state’s department of human services was tipped off about poor working and living conditions at the camp. The camp was shut down when authorities investigated and found a rodent-infested bunk house, and heard complaints that the workers were being physically abused and paid only 41 cents an hour. The camp was shut down thereafter and the EEOC sued the employer.
A jury has awarded 32 victims each $7.5 million for the decades of discrimination and abuse they endured. A previous wage theft case involving these men resulted in a $1.6 million settlement. Because this company is now defunct, it is unclear whether the victims will actually receive the settlements that they have been awarded.
Source: wcfcourier.com, “Update: $240 million awarded in ‘landmark’ Atalissa workers case,” Brian Wellner, May 2, 2013