DES MOINES, Iowa, May 1 (UPI) -- A jury awarded $7.5 million, including $5.5 million in punitive damages, to each of 32 mentally disabled men who suffered discrimination in an Iowa business.
The award gave $2 million in compensatory damages to each of the men who worked for Henry's Turkey Service, a meat processing plant in Atalissa, and faced decades of abuse, the Des Moines Register reported Wednesday.
Sherri Brown, the sister of one of the men, said the fact that the Des Moines jury returned after less than eight hours of deliberation, sent a message.
"I totally lost it. I wanted the jury to make a statement so that my brother Keith and all of those men would know that someone had heard them. And if this isn't a statement, I don't know what is," Brown said.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission represented the men in federal court, accusing the employer of unlawful harassment and discriminatory employment conditions at the company's labor camp .
The judgment represents "a groundbreaking advancement in that it demonstrates that the men have value that is equal to people without disabilities," said Dr. Sue Gant, an expert witness who testified on behalf of the EEOC regarding the disabled workers' hardships.
Henry's sent hundreds of disabled men from Texas to Iowa over a 40-year period where they worked for 41 cents per hour in a West Liberty meat-processing plant. They were housed in a 100-year-old Atalissa school building the company changed over to a bunkhouse, the Register reported.
The operation was shut down in February 2009, after The Des Moines Register asked state officials about the company's lack of a license to care for disabled adults and about the bunkhouse's conditions.