On April 6, 2011, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed this Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa. The EEOC sued Henry's Turkey Service, a supplier of workers for poultry processors, on behalf of thirty-two men with intellectual disabilities. The EEOC alleged wage violations, disparate treatment, and maintenance of a hostile work environment based on the claimants' intellectual disabilities, and sought money damages and injunctive relief.
The facts, all either admitted or proven true at trial, included that the men were employed by Henry's for a period of more than 30 years and that during this entire 30 year period the men were paid $65 a month, working at least 35 hours per week, and were never paid overtime when they should have been eligible. Non-disabled workers at the same facilities holding the same or similar positions received substantially higher wages. All of the claimants received monthly deposits of Social Security and/or Supplemental Security Income into their individual bank accounts. The defendant, by way of an officer listed as Designated Representative Payee on all of these accounts, had sole access to these funds, which according to the defendant were used to "reimburse" the company for the men's "room and board" and "in kind care." The defendant argued that the expense it bore for "room and board" and "in kind care" should be credited toward and justify the men's low wages.
Further allegations, also proven at trial, included that, at least during the period from February 2007 to February 2009, the men were kept in substandard housing in a converted schoolhouse. They were subjected to harsh discipline, including but not limited to being restrained, being confined to rooms, and being denied restroom access. They were denied access to medical care. The men were hit and kicked by supervisors employed by Henry's. They were also subjected to derogatory and humiliating name-calling based on their disabilities.
On June 25, 2012, the EEOC moved for partial summary judgment on the wage violations claims, which the court (Judge Charles R. Wolle) granted on September 18, 2012. The court found that there was no genuine dispute as to any material fact relevant to these claims, and therefore held as a matter of law that the defendant had engaged in unlawful and discriminatory pay practices in violation of the ADA, U.S.C. §12112(a). The EEOC, on behalf of the intellectually disabled employees, was awarded $1,374,266.53 plus prejudgment interest of $283,568.06, an amount based on the comparable market rate for the labor performed from February 2007 through February 2009. EEOC v. Hill Country Farms, 899 F.Supp.2d 827 (S.D. Iowa 2011).
A jury trial on the other claims raised by the EEOC was held from April 23 through April 29, 2013. On May 1, 2013, the jury found for the workers on all claims, including disparate treatment as to the terms or conditions of employment of the intellectually disabled men, and maintenance of a hostile work environment. It found that each of the 32 workers was entitled to $5,500,000 as compensation. The jury also found that the defendant acted with malice or reckless indifference to the federally protected rights of the disabled former employees, and that each of these former employees was entitled to $2,000,000 in punitive damages. The jury, following precedent, was not informed that the ADA and connected statutes capped damages at $50,000 per claimant. 42 U.S.C. §1981a (b)(2), (3)(A). Bound by this statutory limit, the district court entered a judgment on May 14, 2013, for the EEOC for $1,600,000 (equal to $50,000 per claimant) plus an additional $188,329 in interest. This judgment was in addition to the previously issued $1.37 million award of damages and interest for wage discrimination, discussed above.
On May 23, 2013, the parties agreed to injunctive relief which included:  a requirement that Henry's or any of Henry's officers that reopen business inform the EEOC;  a permanent injunction to stop discriminating;  ADA training for employees and supervisors of any successor business; and  a requirement that Henry's or its successor business retain a mental health consultant to consider requests for reasonable accommodations.
On June 11, 2013, the District Court (Judge Wolle) entered final judgment approving the injunction agreed to in the May 23rd stipulation, confirming the monetary awards already awarded by the court and added a requirement that Henry's pay the EEOC's costs of $10,487, and the court required the payment of post-judgment interest so long as the judgment remained unpaid.
On August 6, 2013, Henry's appealed the pretrial denial of its summary judgment motion to the Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit. On May 9, 2014, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment of the lower court, stating simply that the district court did not err in refusing to vacate the motion for partial summary judgment and that it found no plain error in the admission of any evidence. 564 F. App'x 868 (8th Cir. 2014). There is nothing more in the docket after this holding, but since there was an injunctive remedy, presumably it remains open for enforcement if need be.
As the New York Times reported in September 2015
, collecting the money owed to the 32 men in this case, however, was troublesome. The combined judgments in this case and a previous one by the DOJ resulted in Henry’s owing over $3 million. The officers of Henry’s Turkey Service transferred many of their assets to their adult children and heirs; therefore, collection of the funds from the officers themselves proved to be difficult, and satisfaction of the judgment continued to elude the former employees.
However, a land deal concerning a property dispute in Mills County, Texas, where Henry’s Turkey Service was based, piqued the interest of the the EEOC. They asked the United States attorney’s office for the Northern District of Texas to monitor this land deal for any suspicious activity. It turned out that this land deal involved a confidential settlement in which about $600,000 would have gone to the heirs of Henry’s Turkey Service, instead of to Henry’s itself or the former employees of involved in this case. Federal officials were said to have found evidence of a “fraudulent transaction” and the U.S. Attorney filed an Emergency Motion for Turnover Order on August 26, 2015 in Case No. 3:12-CV-4737-P in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas. The motion asserted that the property in question belonged to Henry's, and therefore the court had the authority to turn over the property to the United States. The United States also requested that the court order that the U.S. should receive the $600,000 for application of debt owed of HCF. On September 3, 2015, with leave of the Court, the EEOC filed an amicus curiae brief in support of the motion.
U.S. District Chief Judge Jorge A. Solis granted the Emergency Motion for Turnover Order on September 11, 2015. The order overrode the confidential settlement, re-directing the $600,000 in funds to the United States for application of the judgment for the 32 former employees. Judge Solis wrote that “[t]his was an intentional scheme concocted solely to shield a substantial sum of money from the United States collection efforts. Accordingly, the Court finds… any benefit due to the Estate under the Settlement Agreement is the property of HCF and, as such, is subject to this Court’s authority to aid the United States in obtaining satisfaction of its judgment against Henry and HCF.”
In addition, the EEOC announced in September 2015
that it had managed to collect a $272,000 of the the judgment through garnishments and liens. Adding in the additional $600,000 from the case before Judge Solis, the EEOC said it would begin distributing $872,000 to the class members. EEOC planned to coordinate with the U.S. Department of Labor for a distribution plan and process. Brian Kempfer - 02/01/2014
Jessica Kincaid - 04/08/2016
Matt Ramirez - 08/19/2016