EEOC $240 Million Turkey Farm Workers’ Verdict to Be Cut

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Iowa turkey farm against which it won a record $240 million award on behalf of employees with mental disabilities told a federal judge that sum must be reduced.

A Davenport, Iowa, jury found May 1 that Hill Country Farms Inc., doing business as Henry’s Turkey Service, subjected 32 men to verbal and physical harassment, harsh living conditions and other abuses from 2007 to 2009.

Each man won a jury award of $5.5 million in compensatory damages and a $2 million in punitive damages. The amount must fall because federal law caps the total at $50,000 per person if the employer has from 15 to 100 employees for 20 or more weeks of the prior calendar year, the government said in a May 10 court filing.

The jury award was the biggest in the employment agency’s history, it said in a May 1 press statement.

“While certainly an appropriate and meaningful measure of the actual harms suffered by these victims of discrimination, including but not limited to mental anguish, pain and suffering,” it must be reduced, the EEOC told the court.

The total judgment amount should be about $1.79 million including interest, the agency said.

A $1.37 million judgment for Americans With Disabilities Act wage violations was awarded separately case in September.

“Each man’s recovery of the maximum allowable $50,000 is to be added to the amounts previously awarded by the court for wage discrimination, together with applicable prejudgment interest on all the monetary damages awarded,” the agency said in its filing.

Company Lawyers

Lawyers for Hill Country Farms submitted a proposal that the judgment be reduced to the legal maximum.

The Goldthwaite, Texas-based company employed the men in Iowa, where they eviscerated turkeys. The EEOC presented evidence that the company exploited the workers because their intellectual disabilities made them vulnerable and unaware of their rights, the agency said.

The case is Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Hill Country Farms, 11-cv-00041, U.S. District Court, Southern District of Iowa (Davenport).

Editors: Charles Carter,Mary Romano

To contact the reporter on this story: Andrew Harris in the Chicago federal courthouse at aharris16@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at mhytha@bloomberg.net.

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