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Texas company settles suit alleging unpaid wages, overtime

According to Businessweek, a Texas company accused by the U.S. Department of Labor of failing to abide by minimum wage, overtime and record-keeping laws and of exploiting mentally disabled workers, has recently settled the dispute.

On Monday, Hill Country Farms of Goldthwaite, Texas signed an agreement saying that the company would abide by federal laws. The Department of Labor, for its part, said it would not be seeking unpaid overtime and wages and damages nondisabled, supervisory workers.

Hill Country Farms, whose business name is Henry's Turkey Service, had apparently supplied the workers to a processing plant in eastern Iowa under a contract. That arrangement had reportedly gone on for years.

The settlement comes several months after a federal judge ordered the company to pay $1.76 million in back wages and damages for repeated violations of federal labor laws. Sources said the company failed to pay 31 disabled men minimum wage or overtime pay between 2006 and 2009.

Courts records said that the disabled workers had received only $65 per month in wages, despite the fact that many of them worked over 40 hour weeks. The judge in charge of the case said the company had paid that amount to avoid reducing the workers' Social Security benefits.

Another suit has apparently been brought by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which alleges the disabled men were verbally and physically abused, subjected to substandard living conditions, not given adequate medical care, excessively disciplined, and discriminated against in their wages. Sources said the company has denied the allegations.

Another six nondisabled employees who acted as supervisors of the disabled workers made similar allegations. Those cases are likely to head to trial. The amount of unpaid wages for the supervising employees is unknown, due to the company's poor record-keeping procedures.

Source: Businessweek, "Company settles complaint over Iowa turkey workers," Ryan Foley, 20 July 2011.

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