A federal jury on May 1 awarded $240 million to 32 mentally disabled men who were exploited by the now defunct Henry's Turkey Services, who employed them at a rate of 41 cents an hour. The verdict averages out to $7.5 million per former employee.
The verdict was the largest one in history for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which sued on their behalf.
Henry's hired the men to do contract work at a West Liberty Foods plant in Iowa. West Liberty Foods was not accused of any wrongdoing. By 2008, West Liberty Foods paid Henry's more than $500,000 per year, but the disabled workers were still paid the same low rate.
In the 1960s, Henry's began employing mentally disabled men who were released from Texas mental institutions. However, the abuse was never uncovered until 2009, when the sister of one of the workers reported the neglectful conditions at a bunkhouse where they stayed. The dilapidated bunkhouse had multiple problems, including failing windows that allowed the rain to come in, rodent infestations and numerous fire hazards.
Prosecutors also revealed demoralizing treatment of the employees that included verbal and physical abuse, denying them restroom breaks and locking them in their rooms at night.
Company president Kenneth Henry told the Quad-City Times after the ruling that he intends to appeal.