After one of the nation’s leading poultry producers discriminated against employees with disabilities, the SPLC filed charges with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), according to a lawsuit filed by the EEOC against the company, Wayne Farms. The SPLC represents three former employees of the poultry company who have intervened and joined the lawsuit.
The lawsuit describes how the company maintained an inflexible attendance policy that led to disabled employees being fired after they took time off work to see a doctor – even when a doctor’s excuse was provided. Beginning in 2011, the SPLC reported the company to the EEOC on behalf of former employees, sparking an investigation and, ultimately, the EEOC lawsuit in 2016.
The three former employees represented by the SPLC were fired for their disabilities, according to the lawsuit. The suit details the discrimination encountered by Wayne Farms employees such as Salvadora Roman. A 17-year veteran of the company, Roman was fired after she was assigned to a high-risk job on the debone line and developed carpal tunnel syndrome.
Roman requested a different job, but Wayne Farms refused to move her. As she took time from work to see her doctor about the unbearable pain in her hands and wrists, she accumulated points under the company’s attendance policy. After employees, such as Roman, accumulated enough points under the policy, they were fired.
Another SPLC client, Latonya Hodges, who suffered from asthma, was also fired by Wayne Farms. Despite bringing doctor’s notes to show that her absences were related to her disability, she continued to accrue points under the attendance policy, according to the lawsuit. Hodges was fired in the middle of an asthma attack, when she told supervisors that she needed to leave work to go to the emergency room.
The SPLC has advocated on behalf of poultry workers for many years – including workers at other Wayne Farms plants. In 2014, an SPLC complaint resulted in the Occupational Safety and Health Administration fining a Wayne Farms poultry plant in Jack, Alabama, more than $100,000. The agency found that the plant exposed workers to dangerous machinery as well as hazards that can result in falls and musculoskeletal disorders, such as carpal tunnel syndrome. It also found that the plant failed to record injuries and discouraged workers from seeking treatment.
In 2016, the SPLC filed a federal safety complaint on behalf of a former worker at a different Wayne Farms poultry plant in Alabama. It described how a former employee was exposed to harsh chemicals and developed health issues that continued to affect her even after quitting the job. The former employee believed her co-workers were still being exposed to dangerous levels of chemicals used during the slaughter and processing of chickens.