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Jury awards record disability discrimination verdict

On May 1, a jury in the Midwest awarded the largest recorded verdict in a disability discrimination lawsuit, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Followers of this blog in Ohio may recognize that the American’s with Disabilities Act protects workers who have physical and mental impairments from having to face discriminatory practices in the workplace. A jury in Iowa recently heard the evidence in a disability bias lawsuit that had alleged that a Texas-based turkey farm company had exploited workers with intellectual disabilities for years.

The lawsuit alleged that a group of 32 men were subjected to harassment and discrimination based upon their mental impairments. The lawsuit essentially focused on the years 2007 through 2009, although the EEOC says that the disabled workers had been subjected to severe abuse for roughly 20 years.

Last year, a judge awarded the workers more than one million dollars in a wage dispute. The judge ruled that the turkey farm operation had woefully underpaid the workers for years. The more recent jury trial addressed issues of abuse and discrimination in the workplace.

The EEOC says that the workers were forced to live in substandard conditions while working for the turkey growing operation. The men all reportedly suffered from intellectual disabilities. The lawsuit alleged that supervisors launched verbal abuse toward the workers, as well as subjected the men to egregious forms of physical abuse during their employ.

Workers say that they were physically struck by supervisors. On at least one occasion, a worker was handcuffed. Workers were forced to carry heavy weights as a form of punishment in disciplinary matters, according to the evidence. The men were essentially ignored by management when workers suffered pain or injury, according to the lawsuit.

The disabled workers also were not given proper medical care, according to the EEOC. The lawsuit alleged that the company had exploited the men, who did not know for 20 years the extent to which the treatment that they had been receiving on the job was violating their civil rights under the law.

The jury deliberated over the evidence presented at trial and ultimately awarded the 32 men who had suffered the abuse a record award in damages. Each of the men was given more than $5 million in compensatory damages and $2 million in punitive damages in the jury award. When combined with last year’s wage and hour award, the total combined damages awarded in the workplace discrimination case exceeded $240 million.

Source: EEOC, “Jury Awards $240 Million for Long-Term Abuse of Workers with Intellectual Disabilities,” May 1, 2013

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