Settlement drastically reduced for Atalissa bunkhouse victims - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Settlement drastically reduced for Atalissa bunkhouse victims

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WATERLOO (KWWL) -

Thirty-two men with disabilities who suffered years of physical and verbal abuse at an Iowa turkey plant will now get a lot less money from a civil lawsuit.  Initially, a jury awarded the men held in an Atalissa bunkhouse $240-million for their suffering.  But now, a new law means their settlement's will be drastically reduced.

It was back in 2009 that a family member of one of the men contacted the Des Moines Register with concerns about living and working conditions with Henry's Turkey Service in Atalissa.

Exceptional Persons, Inc. in Waterloo helped rescue the men.  While EPI knows the financial pay-off might no longer help compensate for what they've endured, the men have gained a sense of freedom that's quite valuable.

"EPI's been here since 1957 trying to make sure people with disabilities are extended all the rights of citizenship, and work in the community, and live in the community, and we drove an hour and a half and found something that was really out of a different page," said Chris Sparks, director of Exceptional Persons, Inc.

That page was a bunkhouse in Atalissa.  The men living inside all had some kind of disability. Some didn't realize the gravity of how bad their situation really was.

"You know, it was their home and had been their home for a very long time.  And it's amazing what we can grow accustomed to, isn't it, in terms of living circumstances," Sparks said.

Exceptional Persons, Inc. stepped in and found new living arrangements for 21 of the men. Many of them required medical treatment and counseling to recover.

"These guys were very resilient.  Once they'd been living with us for a while, we had the chance to do some things and assessing about where they'd want to live and what they'd want to do during the day, including some of them had a really strong work ethic and wanted to return into the workforce," said Sparks.

Thirteen of the rescued men still live in the Cedar Valley, and after their ordeal, have a new found sense of freedom.

"They're actually doing very well because they've had the opportunity to gain a sense of comfort, and get accustomed to the community, develop relationships with staff, with other people with whom they live.  So they're busy living their life and I think very happily doing so," Sparks said.

...happiness that for the challenged men once living in the Atalissa bunkhouse, just might outweigh a reduced financial reward for their past struggles.

EPI says the Atalissa case is a reminder for people with family members who have disabilities that there are services available to help.  Many reputable agencies are recognized by the Commission on Accreditation for Rehabilitation Facilities.  Such agencies have undergone rigorous checks to make sure they offer quality housing and employment services.  

A federal judge has yet to enter a final judgment on the Atalissa workers case, but it's expected, he'll accept the Equal Opportunity Commission's agreement.  The agreement reduces the settlement to just $1.6 million, down from the initial $240 million awarded to the workers.

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