Texas Company Owes $1.3 M For What Amounts To Modern Day Wage Slavery
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UPDATED: Sep 30, 2012
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In a shameful and disheartening case of pure exploitation, a U.S. District Court judge in Iowa has ruled that a Texas company, Hill Country Farms, Inc. (dba Henry’s Turkey Service), must pay $1.3 million in wages to 32 intellectually disabled workers who were unfairly underpaid for a period of two years.
EEOC Files Lawsuit for Wage Discrimination
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed suit against Hill Country Farms for wage discrimination, alleging that the company paid these workers a wage significantly lower than non-intellectually disabled workers performing the same or similar work. The workers in this case worked on an evisceration line, getting paid $65 per week rather than the average $11-12 per hour, a wage less than the minimum wage in Iowa.
Workers Were Competent
In a clear case of financial exploitation of a vulnerable class of workers, the court was given evidence by West Liberty Foods, a separate company that contracted with Hill Country Farms for the services of the workers in question, demonstrating that they paid Hill Country Farms $11,000 per week for these services while the workers themselves were only paid $15 per week each by Hill Country Farms. A West Liberty Foods supervisor, in a statement provided to the court, testified that the contracted workers were just as productive as the other workers in the plant and that they even trained replacement workers when the company was closing up its operations.
Company Assumed Workers Would Never Complain
Deducting nearly $1,000 per month from the workers’ wages, Hill Country Farms claimed it was entitled to a credit against the wages it now owes because it provided room and board for the workers. The “room,” it turns out, was a 100 year-old schoolhouse that was ultimately shut down by the fire marshal as unsafe. Witnesses and company supervisors provided evidence that the accommodations were bug and rat infested, with inadequate heating and a leaking roof. Workers were verbally abused and physically harassed. Company officers evidently assumed that these workers would never complain.
The EEOC must now figure out a way to collect the money. Iowa Workforce Development has an outstanding fine of $1.2 million against Henry’s Turkey Service for state workplace violations. The trial on the abuse issues is scheduled for March 2013.