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A jury's landmark award of $240 million to 32 mentally disabled workers at Henry's Turkey Service has been slashed to $1.6 million, because damages can be capped under federal law based on the number of employees affected in the claim.
Each worker can recover $50,000 plus interest, according to federal law, instead of $7.5 million, which a jury awarded May 1 in U.S. District Court in Davenport. The workers can also receive back payments, which average $50,000, according to court documents.
According to a formal agreement filed last Friday by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the law limits compensatory and punitive damages based on certain criteria, including number of employees. If there are "more than 14 and fewer than 101 employees in each of 20 or more calendar weeks in the current or preceding calendar year," then $50,000 is the limit for damages.
The EEOC acknowledged the total number of employees of Hill Country Farms, doing business as Henry's Turkey Service, of Goldthwaite, Tx., consisted of only a few officers and employees in Texas and fewer than 50 in Iowa, including 32 workers with disabilities, and the total number was less than 101, according to the agreement.
The commission stated in the agreement the $7.5 million awarded by the jury to each worker, an "appropriate and meaningful measure of the actual harms suffered by these victims of discrimination," must be "drastically reduced" to meet the "stringent" statutory limits for recovery under the law.
A federal jury found the company created an unlawful hostile environment for the men and discriminated against them on the basis of their disability. The verdict and award followed a week-long trial in Davenport.
According to the lawsuit filed by the EEOC against Hill Country Farms, workers at the West Liberty turkey plant were hit and kicked by Hill Country employees, called names, denied bathroom breaks, and restrained or confined to rooms. Injuries and complaints of pain or requests for doctor's visits were ignored.
A federal judge last September found that Henry's Turkey Service, which shut down in February 2009, had violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by paying the workers “severely substandard wages” – $65 a month, instead of $11 to $12 per hour given to non-disabled workers who did the same work, according to the summary judgment. Senior U.S. District Judge Charles R. Wolle awarded the workers $1.3 million for the pay discrimination.
The EEOC also asked the court to include the calculation of prejudgment interest, which is based on the award of $50,000 per class member of the lawsuit.