The EEOC recently secured its largest verdict in its 48 year history in the amount of $240,000,000.00 from a federal jury in Iowa when 32 mentally disabled turkey processing plant workers were awarded this verdict against their employer, which was found to have violated the Americans With Disabilities Act (“ADA”) by creating a hostile work environment, imposing discriminatory conditions of employment, and acting with malicious and reckless indifference to the civil rights of these employees. In this case, the employer oversaw the work, lodging and care of these 32 employees. However, these individuals were alleged to have been housed in a dilapidated and bug infested bunk house which failed to meet applicable code requirements. They were paid $0.41 an hour which equated to $65.00 per month even though the employer was allegedly being paid more than $500,000.00 per year for their service. It was further alleged that the employer subjected the employees to verbal and physical abuse. By way of example, they were allegedly subjected to strict punishment such as being forced to walk in circles carrying heavy weights and were locked in their bedrooms at night. While working, they were allegedly denied bathroom breaks and were forced to work long hours. Many of them allegedly required immediate medical care, which had been denied to them by their employer.
Although this case presents a unique situation as few employers oversee the care, work and lodging of their employees in this era, this case is notable as it confirms that the potential still exists for significant verdicts to be issued by juries when presented with an appropriate set of facts.