Turkey Factory Abused Disabled Workers for 20 Years

For more than 20 years, 32 men with intellectual disabilities who worked in an Iowa plant eviscerating turkeys were subjected to both verbal and physical harassment, housed in substandard facilities and denied medical care. From 2007 – 2009, they also endured “severe abuse and discrimination,” including being paid a total of $65 a month when they should have received an average of $11 – $12 an hour.

In a “historic verdict” last week, a Davenport, Iowa jury awarded the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) damages totaling $240 million (the largest verdict in the agency’s history) for disability discrimination and severe abuse. Each of the men was awarded $2 million in punitive damages and $5.5 million in compensatory damages.

The decision follows a September 2012 order in which a district court judge ruled that Henry’s Turkey must pay the men $1.3 million for “unlawful disability-based wage discrimination.”

Henry’s Turkey is based in Goldthwaite, Texas; the 32 men (who were in their 40s, 50s and 60s) worked at plants in West Liberty and Atalissa, Iowa. The conditions the men endured, and for so long, are unbelievable. They were frequently referred to as “retarded,” “dumb ass” and “stupid.” Their freedom of movement was restricted and they were not able to access medical care or to have cellphones. Supervisors were “often dismissive” when the men said they were in pain or had been injured. They were hit, kicked, sometimes handcuffed to their beds and made to carry heavy weights as punishments. They were housed in a 1oo-year-old schoolhouse infested with insects and rodents with inadequate heating and leaky roof; a fire marshal has since shut it down.

In the 1980s, one worker reportedly wandered away from the schoolhouse during a winter storm and froze to death.

Such treatment was in clear violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), under which “discrimination on the basis of disability, including intellectual disabilities, in terms and conditions of employment and wages” is prohibited and disability-based harassment is not allowed.

Just reading about the abuse the men were subjected to sends chills down my spine. With my own severely autistic son Charlie turning 16 next week, we think often and always of what he will do after school ends for him at the age of 21. We hope that he can have a job. But then, over and above the long efforts to teach him the skills and to find him an appropriate position (keeping in mind that the unemployment rate is consistently higher for individuals with disabilities), we have to make sure that Charlie is protected and has work in a safe environment and that other workers and supervisors do not take advantage of him.

As Robert A. Canino, regional attorney of the EEOC’s Dallas District Office which tried the case, says,

These men suffered isolation and exploitation for many years, while their employer cruelly consumed the fruits of their labor. Our society has come a long way in learning how persons with intellectual disabilities should be fully integrated into the mainstream workplace, without having to compromise their human dignity.

Canino also emphasized that the men “feel humiliation and suffer distress from their experiences even to this day.” I am hopeful that this historic case will have the effect of making the workplace and the world a safer, better place for individuals with intellectual disabilities.


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Michael H.
Mike H4 years ago

Factory farms are hell on earth!

Alicia Westberry
Alicia Westberry4 years ago

This saddens me more than anything. The money these victims received is more than the wages withheld from them, but it doesn't eliminate the distress they still carry with them.

Amandine S.
Past Member 4 years ago

This is awful !

MARINA M4 years ago

Absolutely Disgusting! We are All Equals in this world and should treat each other as such!

Joy M.
Joy M4 years ago

Absolutely disgusting!!! Can we really be surprised? I agree w/ Lydia - when you murder innocent animals for a living how can you really be good to man?

"If you have men who will exclude any of God's creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow men." ---St. Francis of Assisi

BMutiny TCorporationsEvil

Oh, yes, - with the BUDGET CUTS the GOP INSISTS ON -
there will be EVEN LESS MONEY FOR INSPECTION, for paid employees to INSPECT places where we get our food from - these are among the FIRST GOVT EMPLOYEES TO GO.
The CORPORATIONS are of course DANCING WITH JOY! That is what they PAY "their" Senators and Congresspersons to do!!!
Do you BELIEVE the industries, when they say they will REGULATE THEMSELVES???
Did Henry's Turkeys, regulate ITSELF???
With next-to-ZERO regulation, you'll get this sort of thing AGAIN AND AGAIN - these guys just for once, just HAPPENED to get caught, somehow.
These outrages are COMMON. Don't kid yourselves! Don't think, well, the bad guys, the bad conditions got exposed in this ONE place - and that's IT.
And with practically NO inspections any more, which DELIGHTS the Corporations, the horrible conditions are BOUND TO GET WORSE - it's INEVITABLE.
Good people get caught up in the system and are AFRAID TO COMPLAIN, because they NEED that paycheck...
Oh, yes, the GOP wants to MAKE WHISTLEBLOWING ILLEGAL... it's hard enough, already...

BMutiny TCorporationsEvil

Iowa is a CENTER for meat-processing and packing.
In 2008, there was a huge raid on a AGRIPROCESSORS, a huge meat plant - but this was for beef. [At first I thought maybe the turkey factory was connected with this - but it's not. It's an entirely different CORPORATION.] There were terrible violations uncovered - undocumented workers, child labor, inhumane slaughter methods, grossly unsafe and unsanitary working conditions, and the like.You may have heard of this raid. PETA certainly has.
My point being, these CORPORATIONS are pretty much ALIKE, in the way that they do business. When Agriprocessors had to get rid of the undocumented workers they had, they sent out agents to places like Guatemala and PALAU {do you know where that is?} to get workers! NOT local people! And when Agriprocessors had to lay off some workers, they were STRANDED with no money to get back to their countries!
It is NOT a few "bad" or "greedy" INDIVIDUALS. Who need to be "punished", as if that'll change anything!!!

BMutiny TCorporationsEvil

Sounds like Henry's Turkeys had themselves a cozy little deal going.
This is a CORPORATION, not individuals - and the fine, altho in the millions, that sounds like maybe a lot to us, is NOTHING to a CORPORATION, that has OTHER profit-making enterprises to make up the cost and losses.
This is NOT a "few bad guys", but a CORPORATION. They have no doubt OTHER exploitative deals going, maybe with "undocumented" immigrants or other helpless people they have brought in. Companies like that, go out and RECRUIT exploitable workers from poor countries. Especially in the meat industry, which is unsafe and unsanitary and unpleasant.
This is EXACTLY what you can EXPECT to happen, when, as the GOP wants, you PRIVATIZE everything. Privatize prisons, privatize schools.... INSTEAD of these disabled men being cared for by the STATE, they were handed over, helplessly, to a PRIVATE CORPORATION to be housed and taken care of. No wonder they got no medical care! It wouldn've taken away from CORPORATE PROFIT$. In fact, stinting on Medical Care, probably paid for those fines several times over......!!!!!!
CORPORATIONS.....ARE.....EVIL. So is PRIVATIZATION of what should be for the PUBLIC GOOD.

Lydia Weissmuller Price

I am so sorry that these workers had to suffer physical and emotional abuse. They were also abused in being employed in death factories, something they should have been protected from. Any business that tortures and murders animals for profit cannot be expected to care for helpless human beings, either.

Elizabeth Sowers
Liz Sowers4 years ago

I also wish that jail sentences could be imposed on those who abused and imprisoned these disabled workers.