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The severed pig’s head was left at work to threaten an employee who asked for wages, the FBI say

A severed pig’s head left in an employee’s workplace was an undeniable act of harassment, according to federal labor officials, who likened the incident to a scene from “The Godfather.”

Tosh Pork LLC, a farm and pork producer in Henry County, Tennessee, is accused of retaliating against two employees who asked about wages.

On Jan. 23, the employees asked Tosh Pork why they were not being paid overtime and were threatened with termination if they continued to discuss the issue, according to a complaint filed in federal court on Feb. 21.

When an employee returned to his work area, he found the severed pig’s head, the complaint said.

In support of court documents, acting Labor Secretary Julie Su referenced a scene from “The Godfather,” a 1972 film about an Italian-American crime family.

“Don Corleone, played by Marlon Brando, has his consigliere place a horse’s head in a Hollywood producer’s bed after making him ‘an offer he cannot refuse,'” according to a memorandum.

“This was clearly a threat intended to intimidate, as if the pig’s head was here,” Su said in a note.

The Department of Labor filed the complaint and filed a motion seeking a temporary restraining order to prevent retaliation against the two employees, the department announced in a March 5 news release.

In a statement to McClatchy News on March 5, Tosh Pork said the company “denies involvement in the retaliatory conduct alleged by the DOL” and “intends to vigorously defend itself in court.”

Events leading up to the pig’s head

According to court documents, after an initial complaint from the two employees, who were married, the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division began an investigation into Tosh Pork in May 2022.

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Tosh Pork has sold pork and crops from its farm to major corporations, such as JBS USA, Kroger and Costco, according to the DOL. The company hires people from other countries to work on its 11,000 acres of farmland as part of an H-2A agricultural guest worker program.

After the workers’ complaint to the DOL, Tosh Pork assigned one of them with tasks that were not part of her job — including cleaning offices, bathrooms and pig waste — even though she was supposed to provide veterinary care to the pigs from the farm. court documents say.

As a result of the DOL investigation, the Wage and Hour Division determined that Tosh Pork owed five H-2A visa employees, including the married couple, $39,375 in back wages and fined $36,731 in civil monetary penalties, according to the complaint.

Before the investigation was completed, the division informed Tosh Pork that retaliation against employees who file complaints is prohibited, the complaint said.

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The retaliation

In December 2023, the other employee who filed the initial complaint noticed that his manager was behaving differently, including by “yelling at him, glaring at him while he worked and unnecessarily criticizing his work,” according to the complaint dated February 21.

On Jan. 23, Tosh Pork met with the two employees separately and told them the company knew they were “involved in written communications with other employees questioning Tosh Pork’s inability to pay overtime,” according to the complaint .

Although the meetings were separate, Tosh Pork gave both employees the same warning: that they would be fired if they did not stop talking to coworkers about overtime, the complaint said.

Tosh Pork also ordered them to sign a document guaranteeing their silence, according to the complaint, which states that one signed while the other did not.

During the meetings, both Tosh Pork employees and an HR manager “complained about their pay, specifically asking why they were not being paid overtime,” the complaint states.

The employee who found the severed pig head then contacted his manager about the find and was told to throw it away, the complaint said. As a result, he took it to a compost heap.

The work of this employee does not involve the slaughter or processing of pigs, according to the complaint.

Tosh Pork “implicitly threatened (him) with unspecified harm by placing or causing to be placed a severed pig’s head in (his) work area. This was clearly a threat intended to intimidate,” according to a memorandum in support of a motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction.

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This threat extended to the other employee, his wife, “given their close relationship,” the court said.

‘Clear attempts at intimidation’

Federal law, specifically the Fair Labor Standards Act, protects workers who demand their wages, such as Tosh Pork employees.

Tosh Pork is accused of breaking the law by retaliating against them, the DOL said.

The company told McClatchy News that it “seeks to follow all federal, state and local regulations, including the Fair Labor Standards Act.”

“It is important to Tosh Pork that our employees are treated with dignity and respect and that our animals receive proper care,” the company said.

Meanwhile, DOL Regional Solicitor Tremelle Howard in Atlanta said in a statement that “Tosh Pork’s abhorrent actions and apparent attempts to intimidate and retaliate against his employees will not be tolerated.”

Henry County is located about 110 miles west of Nashville.

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