Severed pig’s head left at work to threaten employee who asked about pay, feds say

A severed pig’s head left at an employee’s workstation was an unmistakable act of intimidation, 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 pay.

On Jan. 23, the employees both asked Tosh Pork why they weren’t paid overtime and were threatened with termination if they kept discussing the issue, according to a complaint filed in federal court on Feb. 21.

When one employee returned to his workspace, he found the severed pig’s head, the complaint says.

In supporting court documents, Acting Secretary of Labor 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 the bed of a Hollywood producer, after making him ‘an offer he can’t refuse,’” a memorandum says.

“This was clearly a threat meant to intimidate, like the pig’s head was here,” a memorandum filed by Su says.

The Department of Labor filed the complaint and 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 it engaged in the retaliatory conduct alleged by the DOL” and “intends to vigorously defend itself in court.”

Events leading up to the pig’s head

In May 2022, following an initial complaint from the two employees, who are married, the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division began investigating Tosh Pork, according to court documents.

Tosh Pork has sold pork and crops grown on its farm to major companies, 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 employees’ complaint to the DOL, Tosh Pork tasked one of them with duties that weren’t a part of her job — including cleaning offices, bathrooms and pig waste — even though she was meant to provide veterinary care to the farm’s pigs, court documents say.

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

Before the investigation concluded, the division informed Tosh Pork that retaliating against workers who file complaints is prohibited, according to the complaint.

The retaliation

In December 2023, the other employee who filed the initial complaint noticed his manager acting differently, including by “yelling at (him), glaring at him while he worked, and unnecessarily criticizing his work,” the Feb. 21 complaint says.

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 failure to pay overtime,” according to the complaint.

Though the meetings were separate, Tosh Pork gave both employees the same warning: that they’d be fired if they didn’t stop talking to co-workers about overtime issues, the complaint says.

Tosh Pork also ordered them to sign a document to ensure their silence, according to the complaint, which says one signed, while the other didn’t.

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

The employee who found the severed pig’s head afterward contacted his manager about the discovery and was told to get rid of it, according to the complaint. As a result, he brought it to a compost pile.

This employee’s duties do not involve slaughtering or processing pigs, the complaint says.

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

This threat extended to the other employee, his wife, “given their close association,” according to the court filing.

‘Clear attempts to intimidate’

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

Tosh Pork is accused of violating the law by retaliating against them, according to the DOL.

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 appalling actions and clear attempts to intimidate and retaliate against its employees will not be tolerated.”

Henry County is about 110 miles west of Nashville.

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