September 20, 2012
Henry's Turkey Service ordered to pay men $1.3M
Records show earlier million-dollar judgments have not been paid
A federal judge has ruled that Henry’s Turkey Service must pay $1.3 million for the exploitation of mentally disabled men who worked for the company in Iowa.
The ruling by U.S. District Judge Charles R. Wolle represents the third million-dollar judgment against the company that over a period of 40 years sent hundreds of disabled men from Texas to Iowa where they worked in a meat-processing plant for 41 cents an hour.
The men were housed in a 100-year-old Atalissa school building the company converted to a bunkhouse. The operation was shut down in February 2009 after The Des Moines Register asked state officials about conditions inside the bunkhouse and the company’s lack of a license to care for disabled adults.
Wolle’s ruling, filed late Tuesday, came after Henry’s attorney offered virtually no defense to a lawsuit filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging fair-wage violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The commission recently sought a partial summary judgment in the case, in essence asking the judge to rule in its favor on the undisputed facts, without having to take the entire case to a trial.
When Henry’s offered no resistance, Wolle agreed to the request and issued the partial summary judgment ordering the Texas labor broker to pay $1,374,266 to 32 of the men who worked for the company between 2007 and 2009. The men had been diagnosed with mental retardation.
With the fair-wage issue resolved, the case will proceed on the remaining issues that involve allegations of unlawful harassment and discriminatory employment conditions. A trial on those issues is scheduled for March of next year.
Look back at four years of coverage of the exploited meat processing workers, and find photos, videos, audio and documents detailing the scandal at DesMoinesRegister.com/atalissa.
P. David Lopez, general counsel for the EEOC, said the case reflects the commission’s “commitment to enforce anti-discrimination laws nationwide on behalf of all workers,” including the disabled.
“It is a serious mistake for any employer not to adopt safeguards against unlawful discrimination,” he said.
Henry’s decades-long practice of paying its workers less than the minimum wage was well-known to the U.S. Department of Labor, which over a period of 15 years repeatedly cited the company for wage violations but imposed no penalties.
After the bunkhouse was shut down, the Labor Department pursued the matter and won a $1.76 million judgment against the company for federal labor law violations.
In a separate action, Iowa Workforce Development imposed a $1.2 million civil fine against Henry’s for state labor law violations.
Court records indicate those penalties remain unpaid. Robert Berry, the company’s accountant, has said owners Kenneth Henry and Jane Ann Moreland don’t have the resources to pay off any of the court judgments.
Robert Canino, a Texas-based attorney for the EEOC, said Wednesday that the U.S. Department of Justice is “in the process of debt collection,” but he’s not sure how much progress has been made.
He said that although Henry’s is no longer operating as a business, the owners are still accessible and the EEOC will continue to seek compensation for the company’s workers.
“We don’t yet know exactly where all the missing money is, but we do know where it is not,” Canino said. “It is not in the bank accounts of the persons who earned it. The EEOC will use the resources it has available to seek and secure as much as possible of the remedy granted by the court.”
The men who worked for Henry’s collected $65 a month after the owners deducted from their pay the cost of living expenses at the bunkhouse. The amount they received never varied, regardless of how many hours the men worked. In addition, the company took some of the workers’ disability checks to pay for the same living expenses the payroll deductions were supposed to be funding.
The EEOC has argued that the company consigned the men to a life of enslavement and “perpetual poverty and dependency.”
In a deposition taken earlier this year in Waco, Texas, the 79-year-old Moreland was asked why, for years, the company had withdrawn identical amounts for room and board from each worker’s paycheck and from each worker’s disability payments.
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