Jury deliberates in Iowa worker abuse case

DAVENPORT – A government attorney asked jurors Tuesday to award damages to 32 mentally disabled workers, saying they were subjected to around-the-clock discrimination by a Texas company that profited from their work at an Iowa turkey plant.

Equal Employment Opportunity Commission attorney Robert Canino said the former workers for Henry’s Turkey Services suffered “broken lives” because of the conditions they endured while living at a run-down bunkhouse in rural Iowa and working at West Liberty Foods.

He said the men “were treated like property” by supervisors who physically and verbally abused them at home and at work while the company made millions over the years from their work at the plant’s evisceration line.

“This was pervasive, 24/7, in every way,” Canino said.

Canino’s comment came as he delivered a closing argument in a federal courthouse in Davenport. The EEOC is suing Henry’s over allegations that the company, based in Goldthwaite, Texas, violated federal law by subjecting the men to discriminatory terms of employment and a hostile work and living environment.

Jurors deliberated for five hours Tuesday without reaching a verdict. They plan to return Wednesday morning to resume deliberations.

The lawsuit was filed after state officials shut down the bunkhouse in 2009 because of unsafe and unsanitary conditions, and transitioned the men into other living arrangements. The men earned $65 per month after the company docked their wages to pay for their care. U.S. District Judge Charles Wolle has already ordered Henry’s to pay $1.3 million in lost wages.