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Company ordered to pay mentally disabled workers under the FLSA

According to the United States Department of Labor a federal judge recently ordered a food manufacturing company to pay $1.76 million to former workers who are mentally disabled for violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act. The order was a part of a partial summary judgment order that alleged the company abused and underpaid multiple mentally disabled employees who worked at a company plant.

The company at issue is Hill Country Farms, and the company provided workers to a turkey plant in Iowa. The company owes 31 employees back wages and damages for violating federal minimum wage and overtime laws. The workers in the lawsuit were men in their 50s and 60s who lived in a bunkhouse that was in ruins. The bunkhouse's windows were boarded up and the men depended on space heaters to warm their living space. Many of the workers were from Texas but had spent the last 20 years of their lives working at the turkey plant in Iowa.

In February 2009, the state fire marshal closed the bunkhouse and the state of Iowa helped many of the men find new jobs and housing. According to the Labor Department, the company charged the workers for room and board and the amount of rent increased each year even though the wages of the workers remained constant.

According to the lawsuit, the workers were charged $65 per month for rent because the amount was the highest amount the company could charge each worker without reducing the amount of their Social Security benefits. The employees often worked more than 40 hours in a week, but the company only paid the workers for a 40 hour work week.

Source: Bloomberg Businessweek, "Texas company to pay $1.7 million to Iowa workers," Melanie S. Welte, 4/28/11

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