Robert Canino sobbed in a Davenport federal courtroom Wednesday when the judge announced the $240 million verdict.

The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission attorney advocated four years for 32 mentally disabled men and convinced a jury after five days of emotionally brutal testimony that their chances at normalcy and happiness were stolen by Henry's Turkey Service.

The jury returned what Canino believed to be the largest verdict in EEOC's history, finding that Henry's violated the Americans with Disabilities Act in paying the disabled workers 41 cents an hour, forcing them to live in a rodent-infested bunkhouse in Atalissa, and subjecting them to daily physical abuse and neglect.

U.S. District Judge Charles Wolle read aloud the verdict at 10:30 a.m. Canino cried upon hearing it and still fought tears trying to comment on it moments later.

“For the first time since 2009, the public, as represented by the jury, not only got to hear the whole story about these men, but fully understood the depth of the human experience they suffered,” he said.

The jury awarded each of the 32 workers $7.5 million for emotional and punitive damages. Jurors declined to comment outside the courthouse.

Kenneth Henry, the 72-year-old company's owner, left the courthouse with the assistance of a walker, saying he’ll appeal.

His company, based in Goldthwaite, Texas, hired the men, all at various stages of intellectual disability, and brought them to Iowa in the 1970s to work at a turkey processing plant in West Liberty. Henry testified that 1,500 mentally disabled men worked for him in more than 45 years.

He testified that he wasn’t aware of the deteriorating conditions at the Atalissa bunkhouse or physical abuse against the men.

On a tip, Iowa authorities raided the bunkhouse in February 2009 and the state fire marshal ordered that it be shut down. Henry’s had already sent a dozen disabled workers to live in nursing homes in Texas.

The remaining 21 workers at the bunkhouse were relocated to Exceptional Persons Inc. of Waterloo.

Katie Slade, that organization's communications and development director, said Wednesday that 13 of the men still live there in a variety of community-based homes with employment opportunities directed by the individual men.

“Each enjoys the daily choices afforded to them and are doing well,” Slade said.

Sherri Brown, the sister of one of the bunkhouse workers, James Keith Brown, trembled minutes before the verdict was announced, saying, “I can’t believe it’s been four years.”

She made the call to the Iowa Department of Human Services that resulted in the bunkhouse raid and subsequent legal battle against Henry's.

She cried in court when the verdict was read aloud.

“To me, it’s a statement that the mentally challenged are human beings, that they do count,” she said.

Her brother now lives in his own apartment in Fayetteville, Ark., where he is employed at $8 an hour and does his own laundry.

He had lived at the bunkhouse for more than 30 years and only shared with her his experiences after he returned home.

She wishes Henry's and its supervisors who are accused of physically abusing workers will face criminal charges one day, she said Wednesday.

"They've proven every point overwhelmingly with the evidence," Brown said.

The Iowa Attorney General's office will not press criminal charges, its spokesman, Geoff Greenwood, said Tuesday.

"Our prosecutors felt that they could not meet the high burden of proof required in criminal court," Greenwood said.

Greenwood said that in a civil trial the federal government must meet a “preponderance of the evidence” standard, which is essentially a 50.1 percent threshold.

Canino said his agency's next step is to investigate Henry's assets in its effort to collect the money for the disabled men.

"The EEOC will bear down with all our energies to fully explore all the sources of assets of this company," he said. "We're not playing."

Henry’s, which also does business as Hill Country Farms, hasn’t paid $1.6 million in previous federal and state fines related to the men, according to records.

Michael McAleer, president of the Handicapped Development Center in Davenport, said Wednesday’s verdict sends a message to companies that exploit disabled people they’re not going to get away with it, calling what Henry’s did to its Atalissa workers “slavery.”

“It should have never happened,” McAleer said. ”It only happens when people look the other way or choose to ignore it.”

The Handicapped Development Center provides employment and housing services for people with developmental disabilities. McAleer said he works only with companies that provide reliable jobs at a competitive labor rate and offer on-the-job training.

U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, author of the Americans with Disabilities Act passed in 1990, weighed in on Wednesday’s verdict.

“Nothing will ever fully make up for that wrongdoing, but I consider today’s ruling an important step in what has been a long road to justice for these workers,” Harkin, D-Iowa, said.

The Atalissa workers case is changing federal wage laws, one national expert said, calling the case “landmark” in shedding light on the treatment of the mentally disabled.

Sue A. Gant, an expert in the care and treatment of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, called Wednesday’s verdict “extraordinary” and said changes are already happening at the federal level in light of the case.

The U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division and the Center for Public Representation have launched investigations into ADA complaints regarding how mentally disabled workers are paid, Gant said.

For instance, prior to this case, companies could hire mentally disabled workers for less than minimum wage if they could prove the worker was in some sort of “training program.” The U.S. Department of Labor is revisiting the waiver due to the Atalissa case, she said.

“I don’t see this as the end of this case,” she said.

(26) comments

freesenior

There are so many sub issues in this mess, each of which has disgusting and appalling elements, that it will take a book to outline what really took place. There certainly is more to the story than what came out in court. So many questions have been raised.
Certainly the jury spoke and they clearly were outraged. The company no doubt will seek bankruptcy portection if the verdict is enforced. The chances of the plaintiffs actually seeing anywhere near he award in actual recovery are closer to none, rather than slim and we are still left with questions as evidenced by the comments here.There are laws that stand to prevent such acts in the first place, but as his story indicates, they were violated and the plaintiffs are left with a victorious but empty recourse.
A big ball was dropped here. This was an evironment, not just a work place. Over the years it never got better and no one knew what was going on or was compelled to speak of it until a "tip" was provided? Employers, regardless of the business are obligated to follow the law. On the basis of the verdict, this obligation was an outragous failure. It however may be eventually shown that it was a failure for a variety of reasons and that the conduct of the employer was not the only reason this environment came to exist. It is too easy to chaulk this up to greed. Greed always exists in human nature. Behaviors such as this are to be checked by law and its enforcement. Something was ignored or perhaps something could not be addressed by the law and decades passed before the problem became so great that this outcome was all that could come from it?

autism Mom
autism Mom

These men will never receive a cent of that money the state of Iowa will get it all. This abuse and use of people with disabilities has found a very popular business community due to the fact that they can use these people as virtual slaves working for dirt cheap and make a mountain of money in the process. This case is not isolated at all and the state of Illinois does the same thing. Working the mentally disabled for peanuts working them like slaves and then the money goes to NOT THEM!!! The states need to check into more of these "work shops" and find out exactly what is going on. God bless these people who cannot protect themselves from the vultures of our society.

askwhy3

I think that this case calls more for criminal prosecution rather than a civil one. But, this outfit is headquartered in Texas. If you look at the state and the metrics that measure human misery, you will see that Texas is near the bottom of the list of civilized behavior toward their citizens. They have the greatest percentage of children not covered by health insurance , and the list goes downhill from there. It does rate high as a place for the wealthy and retirees to live, as it has no state income tax, those who choose to look the other way, that is. Of the jobs created in Texas since the recession, it is estimated that 80% have gone to illegal immigrants. That is the group that is openly blamed for the collective poor social conditions in the state. But, they are independent and do tend o talk in simple terms and wear big hats, like in the movies. no wonder Henrys has gotten along with the scam for so long.

Betttaxpayer

Where is your data source that 80% of jobs created in Texas have gone to illegal aliens? I'm sure some jobs have gone to illigals but 80% sounds highly improbable. If Texas is so bad why do so many people live there? They could move to Iowa with its high income and property taxes or Illinois which is bankrupt.

zetar

Texas has, "highest percentage of minimum-wage hourly workers in the nation." There are some other statistics in this article, too: http://money.cnn.com/2011/08/12/news/economy/perry_texas_jobs/index.htm.

The Scarlet Pimpernel

That still doesn't substantiate the originally challenged point that 80% of the new jobs went to "illegal" immigrants. BTW, immigrants are people. There is no such thing as an illegal person. there are properly documented immigrants and undocumented immigrants. But people cannot be illegal.

Mark Riley 4 State Senate
Mark Riley 4 State Senate

Using the logic that bankruptcy would be bad cause there would be no company and or jobs is interesting! Using that logic we should immediately call for the State and Federal authorities to cease the prosecution, judgment's and seizures of all illegal activities to include drug trade, xes trade, child pics, organized crime. copyright violators, patent violators, loan sharks and the local street walker. all of these activities create jobs and with the exception of the lady of the evening and the drug dealer, steal from someone the value of their labor or self and sell it at a profit for them selves below its real value.

Taney

If he thinks that the conditions weren't as deplorable as described, let him spend his last days living like that. Of course, that would be after he pays everything that he possibly could to the men that were abused in that bunkhouse.

iowalittledog

What happens if the old man dies while the case is on appeal? The defendants should settle for whatever is available right now, otherwise they may never see a dime.

The Scarlet Pimpernel

First and foremost, the old man AND the company are on the hook, you can take that one to the bank. Second of all, Mr. Henry will undoubtedly have the corporate veil pierced on him and so his personal assets as well as those of his wife, because you can be that she was an officer of the company, will be forfeit. Furthermore, the EEOC can, if need be, seize the stock of the company and send in a management to run the company on behalf of the men until the entire judgment is paid off plus interest. The judgment will begin accruing interest immediately so it's in that guy's best interests to pay it off now. Third, I don't think I have ever been involved in a case where a jerk like this guy didn't immediately cry poor mouth and swear that he/she didn't have two cents to rub together. But there are so many ways to turn this guy and his wife upside down and shake until all the money runs out that they won't believe it is happening to them. Because they are used to doing the wringing out of people.

Herky
Herky

Not defending the actions of Henry whatsoever, but my question is the the family members of these men. Where were you all those years they were being treated so bad? Why weren't your voices heard then? Why is it you're only now showing up when there is money to be awarded?

1of3

I wondered that myself Herky,, I can tell you if I had a disabled relative that was being mistreated I wouldnt stand by and watch it happen thats for sure!

grugreen

Agreed. I remember when this story broke 4 years ago and a sister, who was only remaining relative, had visited her brother once in 14 years and had not talked to him in several. Out of site out of mind until the bunk house got shut down, then he became her dependent and thats when stuff hit fan.

The Scarlet Pimpernel

Well, to all three of you, I would suggest that you take a reading comprehension course so you can read an article completely. The raid on the house came about because the woman who called about the conditions was the sister. She lives in Arkansas, a fair distance from the Quad Cities. Since neither one of them had much money, there was little communication between them. Why don't y'all man up and call that woman and ask her why she didn't come see her brother instead of being big and tough in a newspaper she has no access to and will never read. She found out about the conditions because her brother got laid off and used his last paycheck to come home and began telling her about the house. But then, I read the newspaper's reporting on it instead doing the typical wingnut thing and look for a reason to badmouth the family and the victims. And the families are victims too, BTW. How many times do you think that woman has asked herself, "If only I had scraped together the money to go see bubba."

grugreen

Maybe you should also take the reading course SP. I believe I wrote A sister, not this particular one had not visited in 14 years. If this is the same one so be it. can't remember whole story after 4 years. Not condoning what this guy did by anymeans, but for it to go on this long, with that many men over the years and not one relative came out is pretty sad no matter what.

Klaatu
Klaatu

No, it is not a good thing. It is an excessive judgment and will almost certainly be reduced or thrown out altogether. A smaller judgment that the guy could actually meet would have been better. There is zero possibility that the guy will pay that much.

zetar

I just knew I could count on good ol' Klaatu to speak up for the poor defenseless scum that mistreats workers... oh, I'm sorry, "job creator".

John Rambo

Keep drinking your liberal kool-aid. Do you believe this guy can wave a magic wand and make money appear that just isn't there? I saw absolutely no evidence of Klaatu condoning Henry's actions, just throwing out a logical opinion that a smaller award would have likely been paid, where they do not have a chance of getting this settlement. It will force the company into bankruptcy, meaning no more opportunity to generate further revenue to pay these poor men. While justice could be served by Henry's going out of business, in a sense, it does little to repair the situation with these poor men by giving them the financial compensation they need and deserve. Think about it.

zetar

Kenneth Henry is the poster child for unbridled greed and mistreating human beings (you know, a 'job creator').

This isn't about 'justice being served by Henry's going out of business'.

This is about justice for those who could not defend themselves. Mr. Henry needs to go bankrupt. Mr. Henry needs to serve some jail time.

And the Republicans (or Tea Party or Libertarians or whatever you're calling yourselves this week) really need to take a big step back and look at yourselves and the people that you associate with and defend.

Kenneth Henry is the very definition of human scum. He's not a 'job creator'. He's just a very bad person.

John Rambo

I don't think anyone disagrees that Henry is scumb. As for the verdict and what it will do for the victims, that is debatable. They likely would have been far better off with a smaller judgement that they would actually see. As far as you lumping "job creators" as being greedy and mistreeting human beings, that just speaks volumes about your intelllect and the person you are... You can't judge an entire group of people by the actions of one.

Klaatu
Klaatu

You are a liar. I made it clear in many posts that I despise the man and have no problem with him being bankrupted. Tell the truth for once. There is no pool of money to satisfy the judgment. I think the guy should be in jail and you know it. You spew lies constantly.

Bobaloo

Are you a friend of Mr. Henry or something? (Don't answer that.)

But seriously, how is this judgement "not a good thing"? Let's not forget what his company did to these men – treated them like sub-human garbage. "Oh, it's OK to bash their head against the wall and play with their thing because they're so stupid they can't tell the difference. And that money – oh, they'll never miss it, while we go out and party at the local bar and harass all the hot-looking chicks. And calling them names ... well, they don't know what the words 'stupid', 'idiot' and so forth means, so why should I care if they get called those names."

This judgment "not a good thing"? You have got to be kidding. I'd say it's not enough. Not nearly enough to repay all the damage and make up for all the lost years of cruel, inhumane, almost Nazi war camp-like treatment. NO dollar amount is nearly good enough. What we've read about the past four years was one of Iowa's most shameful chapters in its history.

Thank God someone saved these poor men from a fate no human being should ever have to go through. The psychological damage done to these men is way too great to justify a lesser amount.

Klaatu
Klaatu

It is just meaningless. Get it? There isn't 240 million to take. The company is bankrupt, there is nothing to seize.

gin0731

Let us hope that there is someone who will now look out for these men and protect them from the vultures. My guess is they will suddenly have lots of people who will want to help them and "take care" of their money.

cd1001

Looks like Mr. Henry might not be able to afford that haircut he so desperately needs.

Bobaloo

Wow -- there IS a God and there IS justice in this world!

I think this goes to show people that you JUST DO NOT do this sort of thing to people who cannot help themselves. I just hope the men responsible for verbally berating, stealing from, beating ... raping ... and so forth to these men pray hard and earnestly for forgiveness.

If anything, the jury's award is just ... but I'd have made it $750 million at the very least.

I'd say many of these men who engaged in their deplorable behavior are on the same level as Jerry Sandusky and the pedophile priests who disgraced the Catholic church. Same level.

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