For more than 30 years, he and a few dozen other men with intellectual disabilities — affecting their reasoning and learning — lived in a dot of a place called Atalissa, about 100 miles south of here. Every morning before dawn, they were sent to eviscerate turkeys at a processing plant, in return for food, lodging, the occasional diversion and $65 a month. For more than 30 years.
Their supervisors never received specialized training; never tapped into Iowa’s social service system; never gave the men the choices in life granted by decades of advancement in disability civil rights. Increasingly neglected and abused, the men remained in heartland servitude for most of their adult lives.
This Dickensian story — told here through court records, internal documents and extensive first-time interviews with several of the men — is little known beyond Iowa
But five years after their rescue, it continues to resound in halls of power. Last year the case led to the largest jury verdict in the history of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: $240 million in damages — an award later drastically reduced, yet still regarded as a watershed moment for disability rights in the workplace. In both direct and subtle ways, it has also influenced government initiatives, advocates say, including President Obama’s recent executive order to increase the minimum wage for certain workers.