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U.S. Wins Record $240 Million Discrimination Verdict

May 2 (Bloomberg) -- An Iowa jury awarded $240 million in damages, a record for the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, in a trial accusing a Texas-based turkey processing company of severe abuse and discrimination against workers with intellectual disabilities, the agency said.

The jury in federal court in Davenport, Iowa, found 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, after 20 years of similar mistreatment, the EEOC said yesterday in a statement.

The Goldthwaite, Texas-based company employed the men in Iowa, where they worked eviscerating 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 men were hit, kicked, called “retarded,” and “dumb ass,” denied adequate medical care and forced to live in “deplorable and sub-standard” conditions, the EEOC said. At least one case of hand-cuffing was reported, as well as disabled workers being forced to carry heavy weights as punishment, the agency said.

David Scieszinski, an attorney for Hill Country Farms, didn’t immediately return a voicemail message seeking comment about the verdict after regular business hours yesterday.

The jury awarded each of the men $2 million in punitive damages and $5.5 million in compensatory damages. A district judge in September ordered Henry’s Turkey to pay the men $1.3 million for unlawful disability-wage discrimination, bringing the total judgment to $241.3 million, the agency said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Peter Blumberg in San Francisco at pblumberg1@bloomberg.net

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

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