Southern Fried Henry’s Turkey? A Newly-Announced $5 Million Settlement On Behalf Of Vulnerable Workers

Recall the case of Henry’s Turkey – the company that exploited vulnerable intellectually challenged and disabled workers by, among many other things, paying them $65 a month to eviscerate turkeys?

Well, a case has just been settled by the EEOC for $5,000,000, which I have dubbed the “Southern Fried Henry’s Turkey Case.”

Fried Chicken, Chicken, Fast Food, Meal

I wrote about “vulnerable workers” back on October 18,  and said that protecting “vulnerable” workers is an EEOC priority.  An EEOC press release stated that “Combating discrimination against agricultural workers falls within one of the priorities under the EEOC’s Strategic Enforcement Plan (SEP): protecting immigrant, migrant and other vulnerable workers.”

I described workers as “vulnerable” when they are subject to discrimination and harassment, “mostly evidenced by their powerlessness and the low status of their jobs.  For example they may fear running afoul of immigration laws; they may be unable to speak English; they may be physically isolated in the job, be it in a field or a warehouse; or perhaps they are mentally challenged.”

A month before that, in a post which I called “Henry’s Turkey Raises Its Wattled Head – Again,” I dubbed Henry’s “the poster bird for the abuse of intellectually disabled employees.”

In that case, the EEOC claimed that Henry’s Turkey Service paid disabled workers wages “that were lower than the minimum wage for Iowa where they lived and worked, and that the disabled workers, some of whom had performed the work for over 25 years, were due the same wage rate as non-disabled workers.  … [They lived in] the “bunkhouse”—[which was] was closed down by the state fire marshal as unsafe, its heating was inadequate, the bug-infested building had rodent problems, and the roof was in such disrepair that buckets were put out to catch water pouring in.  … [T]he company [also] subjected the disabled workers to abusive verbal and physical harassment, unnecessarily restricted their freedom, and imposed harsh punishments and other adverse terms and conditions of employment such as requiring them to live collectively in substandard living conditions and failing to provide proper health care.”

Well, another such exploitation case has just settled — with the company agreeing to pay to 476 Indian guest workers the sum of $5 million in settlement of an EEOC race and national origin discrimination lawsuit.

An Alabama ship building and repair company allegedly recruited H-2B guest workers from India after hurricanes Katrina and Rita to work in Mississippi and Texas.  The EEOC alleged that the company “subjected the men to a pattern or practice of race and national origin discrimination, including unfavorable working conditions and forcing the men to pay $1,050 a month to live in overcrowded, unsanitary, guarded camps. As many as 24 men were forced to live in containers the size of a double-wide trailer, while non-Indian workers were not required to live in these camps.”

Sound a little like a fried Henry’s?

The company “has issued a statement acknowledging the company’s wrongdoing and apologizing for its treatment of the guest workers.”

The General Counsel of the EEOC, David Lopez, said that “This case should remind companies that EEOC remains vigilant to prevent the exploitation of immigrant and vulnerable workers.”

Takeaway:  All employers, no matter the size, are given a black eye by acts of exploitation such as this.  Employers and trade groups nationwide should take the lead in eliminating such exploitation, not only for the obvious sake of the workers, but also to protect their good name.   If they don’t, the EEOC will do it for them.


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Richard Cohen

Richard B. Cohen is a partner in the New York City office of FisherBroyles, LLP, a national law firm. Richard Cohen has litigated and arbitrated complex corporate, commercial and employment disputes for more than 35 years, and is a trusted advisor to business owners and in-house counsel both in the United States and internationally. His clients have included Fortune 100 companies, domestic and foreign commercial and investment banks, Pacific-rim corporations and real estate development companies, as well as start-up businesses throughout the United States. Email Richard at [email protected]