Texas Company Sued Under ADA for Discrimination Against Mentally Disabled Workers

Texas company Hill Country Farms is accused of severely abusing and discriminating against 31 mentally disabled men who worked at its Iowa turkey processing plant, in a federal lawsuit filed last Wednesday by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

According to the lawsuit, No. 3:11-cv-0004 CRW-TJS , filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa, the company exploited workers, whose jobs involved eviscerating turkeys, because their intellectual disabilities made them particularly vulnerable and unaware of the extent to which their legal rights were being denied. 

Specifically, the complaint alleges that that the owners and staffers of the company denied the workers lawful wages, paying them only $65 a month for full-time work; subjected them to abusive verbal and physical harassment; restricted their freedom of movement; and imposed other harsh terms and conditions of employment such as requiring them to live in deplorable and sub-standard living conditions, and failing to provide adequate medical care when needed.

Verbal abuses included frequently referring to the workers as “retarded”, “dumb ass” and “stupid”. Class members reported acts of physical abuse including hitting, kicking, at least one case of handcuffing, and forcing the disabled workers to carry heavy weights as punishment.  

Such alleged conduct violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), as amended by the Americans with Disabilities Amendments Act (ADAAA), which prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability, including intellectual disabilities, in terms and conditions of employment and wages; and bars disability-based harassment. The EEOC filed suit after first attempting to resolve the matter through conciliation.

The lawsuit follows an EEOC Commission meeting held March 15, 2011, that explored the issue of discrimination on the basis of mental disabilities. On March 24, the EEOC issued its final regulations interpreting the ADAAA, which simplified the determination of who has a “disability” and made it easier for people to establish that they are protected by ADA.

In addition to the EEOC’s ADA claim of disability-based wage discrimination, the U.S. Department of Labor is pursuing a separate minimum wage and overtime suit against the company under the Fair Labor Standards Act, which is set for trial later this year.