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Disabled workers awarded millions for verbal, physical harassment

As we have mentioned in previous posts on our San Diego employment law blog, employers may be accused of violating disability discrimination laws if they treat disabled workers differently from other workers because of their impairments. Employers in California may also be accused of violating disabled workers' rights if they fail to provide reasonable accommodations for disabled employees.

Typically, disability discrimination lawsuits are pursued by workers who have been denied jobs on the basis of their disabilities or those who have been fired for requesting that their employers make special accommodations so that workers can continue to do their jobs after suffering impairments from an illness or injury. However, disability discrimination laws also protect workers who are treated poorly or taken advantage of in the workplace because of their disabilities.

A jury recently awarded more than 30 workers millions in damages after the jury agreed the workers had all been discriminated against because of their impairments. The workers were forced to work in awful conditions, and they were called inappropriate names by non-disabled workers and their employer. According to reports, each worker has been awarded more than $7 million for their employer's wrongdoings.

The 32 plaintiffs were employed at two turkey processing plants in Iowa. Both plants are owned by the same company. Although the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission believes the employer violated the rights of many of its workers over the past two decades, the EEOC only filed a lawsuit against the turkey processing plants on behalf of 32 workers whose rights were violated from 2007 through 2009.

All of the plaintiffs were men who had intellectual disabilities. The lawsuit filed by the EEOC claimed the workers' employer took advantage of disabled workers and forced them to work in an abusive environment. The disabled workers were verbally and physically harassed by non-disabled employees. The plaintiffs were called offensive names, and when the employees complained of suffering work-related injuries or pain from being mistreated, their complaints often went ignored.

Because the plaintiffs had intellectual disabilities, many of them did not understand that their rights were being violated, the EEOC claimed. After hearing arguments in the case, a jury agreed that the employees were severely mistreated because of their disabilities. Each plaintiff will receive $7.5 million in punitive and compensatory damages.

Source: HRMorning.com, "An employment horror story ends in record jury award," Tim Gould, May 3, 2013

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