To read on The New York Times website:
Bias Suit Filed on Behalf of Disabled Men in South Carolina Meat Plant
Two years ago, several older men with intellectual disability were found living in virtual segregation in a seedy bunkhouse in South Carolina, across the street from the massive meat-processing plant where they once worked. One man was still working at the plant, disposing of the D.O.A.’s — that is, the poultry that arrived on trucks already dead.
After The New York Times exposed the situation, in the small city of Newberry, S.C., various government agencies worked to rescue the men from their shabby living conditions, and began a series of investigations into the hows and whys of the arrangement.
Now the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has filed a disability discrimination lawsuit against Work Services Inc., an employment agency that operated the bunkhouse and provided workers to the processing plant. This follows a separate lawsuit filed last year by the Department of Labor, alleging that Work Services Inc. had failed to pay the men federal minimum wages and overtime.
According to the lawsuit, the company had discriminated for years against the men by providing little or no compensation for their work. In addition, the lawsuit alleges, Work Services had required the men to live in substandard conditions, restricted their freedom of movement, and deprived them of basic opportunities to engage with the world beyond the bunkhouse grounds.
This illegal and hostile work environment, the federal agency said, included offensive name-calling rooted in the men’s disability.
Robert A. Canino, a regional lawyer for the equal opportunity commission., described the case as “one of the most uncomplicated” that the agency has filed under the Americans With Disabilities Act — “a clear-cut matter of an employer exploiting the trust of vulnerable workers.”
Telephone calls to Work Services were not returned on Friday.
The Newberry lawsuit, filed on Friday, is directly connected to a more notorious case of worker exploitation in Atalissa, Iowa, more than 900 miles to the northwest. There, dozens of other men with intellectual disability endured decades of mistreatment while living in a bunkhouse and working at a turkey-processing plant.
In fact, the men in Newberry and in Atalissa all initially worked for the same company, Henry’s Turkey Service, which recruited clients from state institutions in Texas, trained them, and sent them in batches to work in processing plants in several states. Many wound up in Atalissa, while others landed in Newberry.
The equal opportunity commission and Mr. Canino won a landmark verdict against Henry’s Turkey Service in 2013, four years after nearly two dozen men were rescued from the inhumane conditions in Atalissa. A pair of Iowa social workers involved in rescuing those men then urged a Times reporter to follow up on clues indicating that a similar situation might be found in Newberry.
Living there, in a bunkhouse created out of an interconnecting complex of shabby mobile homes, were several men with intellectual disability, including Leon Jones, who worked picking up dead poultry at the Kraft meatpacking plant across the street. He had once worked alongside his older brother, Carl, in Atalissa, but they had been split up by their employer, Henry’s Turkey Service.