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Sterling Employment Law

Disabled employees entitled to back pay for discriminatory wages

Disabled Michigan workers should be aware of a recent ruling that stood for protecting the rights of disabled workers who may be subject to disability discrimination.

In this case a company supplied disabled workers to a turkey plant in another state. Those workers were effectively paid 41 cents per hour. The employees lived in a dilapidated and unsafe bunkhouse while working at the turkey plant for nearly 40 years. The state shut down the home in 2009, and now the 32 employees may finally receive at least a little piece of the justice owed to them.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed a lawsuit against the company for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act with respect to these men.

According to the lawsuit, these men were paid only $65 per month for their work. This was the net amount that the employees took home after the business deducted fees for room and board, care, transportation and expenses from their paychecks.

The disabled workers earned this same amount throughout the 30 years that they worked at the plant, regardless of whether they worked more than 40 hours per week, and despite the fact that these workers performed at the same level and just as effectively as non-disabled workers who did the same job.

Not only were these men grossly underpaid, they worked for years in a hostile work environment, one that involved harassment including verbal and physical abuse because of their disabilities.

The EEOC calculated that the amount of money that these employees would have earned had they not been disabled amounted for to more than $1 million during a three-year period. A judge recently agreed with this calculation and that the company is required to compensate these workers for the discriminatory wages they were paid. However, the amount that they can collect is limited to the two-year period before the violations were reported. This means that these men were entitled to more than 10 times this amount, but cannot legally collect anymore from the employer.

This story is important because it emphasizes that though disabled workers may be limited in their employment opportunities, they should not have to sacrifice their human dignity because of those disabilities.

Source: Associated Press, "Judge: Texas firm must pay disabled workers $1.4M," Ryan J. Foley, Sept. 19, 2012

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