The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is making a priority of prosecuting cases involving “vulnerable workers,” reports NPR. Examples include migrant farm workers raped by supervisors in the fields, or those who are the most likely to be exploited and least able to speak out in their own defense. Four years ago, 21 men with intellectual disabilities were freed from a century-old schoolhouse in Atalissa, Ia. They ranged in age from their 40s to their 60s. For most of their adult lives they had worked for next to nothing and lived in dangerously unsanitary conditions.
This month, the EEOC won a $240 million judgment against the turkey-processing company at which the men worked. The civil suit involved severe physical and emotional abuse of men with intellectual disabilities. The judgment will be reduced because it exceeds a legal cap on jury awards. The case highlights the difficulty of preventing and identifying abuse of vulnerable workers, who are also the least likely to come forward about violations. Susan Seehase of Exceptional Persons, a support center that took in most of the men in Iowa, visited their old dwelling. Windows were boarded up, allowing little ventilation or light. The cockroaches were overwhelming. A leaky roof, mildew, accumulated grease, and mice droppings contributed to an overwhelming stench. A fire marshal condemned the building, saying it was the worst he’d seen in nearly 3,000 inspections.