A US jury has awarded $240m (£154m) to 32 mentally disabled men who suffered decades of abuse while working at a turkey processing company in Iowa.
Jurors in Davenport heard how the men had been kicked, verbally abused and denied toilet breaks by their employers from Henry’s Turkey Service.
One expert said the disabled workers – who were each paid only $65 per month – had been “virtually enslaved”.
The verdict is in addition to $1.3m in back wages awarded to the men in 2012.
On Wednesday, the jury determined that the now-defunct Henry’s Turkey Service had violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.
It said the company had created a hostile environment and discriminating conditions of employment for the men, who had learning difficulties and worked at the West Liberty plant under the company’s oversight since the 1970s.
The award gives each worker $7.5m in compensation.
The authorities say they will now seek to recover the award from the remaining assets of the liquidated firm.
The lawsuit against Henry’s Turkey Service was filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
“This case moved me to great emotion because of the issue of exploitation of vulnerable populations,” EEOC attorney Robert Canino said.
“If ever there was a case where the human story needed to be told, the full story, not just financial exploitation, but the devaluation of human life that can happen under the control of an employer, it was this case.”
The abuse was only uncovered in 2009 after a relative of one of the workers tipped off state officials.
Iowa inspectors then found that the building used to house the workers was falling apart, rodent-infested and full of fire hazards.
The building was later shut down.