April 6, 2011 / 9:31 PM / in 8 years

Turkey farm exploited, abused disabled workers: government

CHICAGO (Reuters) - The U.S. government sued a Texas-based poultry company on Wednesday, alleging the business engaged in a pattern of unlawful discrimination against developmentally disabled workers over more than 20 years.

In a civil suit filed in federal court, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission charged that Hill Country Farms exploited and abused a group of 31 men with cognitive disabilities in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The complaint, filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa, alleges the company, which also did business as Henry’s Turkey Service, paid the workers just $65 a month to gut turkeys for a processing plant in West Liberty, Iowa.

The defendants were contractors and did not own or operate the plant. Much of the abuse cited in the complaint was alleged to have occurred in Atalissa, Iowa, in a bunkhouse where the men, who were brought to Iowa from Texas, were housed.

David Scieszinski, the attorney representing the company, said he had not seen the complaint, and did not have an immediate comment.

In addition to the claim of discriminatory wages, the EEOC complaint alleges Henry’s Turkey subjected the workers to illegal verbal and physical harassment, calling them “retarded,” “dumb ass” and “stupid,” and physical abuse including corporal punishment.

The complaint also charges the company restricted the men’s freedom of movement, in one case handcuffing a worker, required them to live in sub-standard living housing, and failed to provide adequate medical care when needed.

The U.S. Department of Labor has filed a separate complaint against the company in the case, alleging violations of the federal minimum wage and overtime laws.

The EEOC complaint seeks a number of penalties including back pay with interest as well as compensatory and punitive damages.

Last month, the state of Iowa fined Hill Country Farms more than $1.1 million for various violations of state law related to the case.

The workers were taken into protective custody by the state of Iowa two years ago.

Editing by Jerry Norton

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