Turkey Processing Workers Denied Years of Pay and Simple Freedoms Because of Intellectual Disability, Federal Agency Charges
COLUMBIA, S.C. -- The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) today announced that it has filed a disability discrimination lawsuit against Work Services, Inc., an employer of six intellectually and developmentally disabled former employees. Work Services, Inc., which is located in Newberry, S.C., contracts its employees to work the production line at a Newberry-based turkey processing plant.
According to EEOC, Work Services Inc. discriminated against the disabled men for years by denying wages or paying lesser wages for work performed and by denying them other benefits. EEOC's suit further alleges that the employer subjected the disabled workers to adverse terms and conditions of employment that included requiring the men to live in substandard living conditions, restricting their freedom of movement, and depriving them of opportunities for communication and socialization. The totality of the misconduct and disregard for the rights of these workers, which also included offensive name-calling relating to their disabilities, created an illegally hostile work environment, EEOC charged.
Such alleged conduct violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which protects employees from discrimination based on their disabilities. EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina, Columbia Division (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Work Services, Inc., Civil Action No. 3:16-CV-03257-HMH-JDA) after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.
EEOC maintains that the workers with disabilities had experience and were skilled at their jobs, which they successfully performed for decades. The agency asserts that the workers were, nevertheless, exploited and mistreated because of their intellectual and developmental disabilities. Those disabilities made them particularly vulnerable to abuse and unaware of their financial loss and the denial of their basic legal rights. In 2014, the workers were found in a company-operated bunkhouse by a New York Times journalist who visited Newberry while researching the back story for an earlier, similar case brought to trial by EEOC, EEOC v. Hill Country Farms, Inc. d/b/a Henry's Turkey Service, Inc.
"Sadly, the discovery of this situation, answers, in part, the question that has arisen since the disturbing Henry's Turkey Service operation came to light in Iowa a few years ago," said Robert A. Canino, regional attorney of EEOC's Dallas District Office, referring to the earlier suit at which EEOC obtained a large award for another large group of mistreated, intellectually disabled workers found in rural Iowa. "After seeing how workers with intellectual disabilities had fallen between the societal cracks, being virtually invisible for decades, many have asked, 'Could there be any other situations like this out there or right in our own backyards?' The answer, sadly, turned out to be yes, and what we found here serves to remind us all to remain vigilant against such abuse of our neighbors and co-workers."
EEOC's efforts have been bolstered by the involvement and support of other federal, state and county authorities, as well as the South Carolina Department of Disabilities and Special Needs and the Newberry County Department of Social Services. These entities made observations and evaluations during the course of assisting the victims after their rescue and removal from the company bunkhouse located across the street from the plant. In addition, a separate civil suit was filed against Work Services, Inc. by the U.S. Department of Labor in December 2015, alleging that the company failed to pay federal minimum wage and overtime.
Pursuing legal remedies against exploitation or other mistreatment of intellectually disabled workers comes under EEOC's national priority of protecting vulnerable populations.
EEOC is responsible for enforcing federal laws against employment discrimination. Further information is available at www.eeoc.gov.