The growing Salmonella outbreak has led investigators back to a familiar character: Austin “Jack” DeCoster — head of Wright County Eggs. Investigators have stated that there has been much wrong with Wright Eggs for years from sanitation violations to unsafe work conditions to hiring of illegal immigrants to sexual abuse of female employees.
DeCoster has been described as an “egg mogul” who now faces not only a massive litigation threat but a federal investigation. Wright County Egg is one of two Iowa farms directly linked to the salmonella outbreak and also supplies chickens and feed to both farms.
Iowa’s attorney general in 2000 officially called DeCoster a “habitual violator” of state environmental laws. In 2002, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission fined DeCoster Farms more than $1.5 million in an employment discrimination case brought by hispanic women alleged harassment, abuse and rape at the hands of DeCoster’s supervisors in Iowa.
On the civil side, DeCoster could face a massive tort action alleging negligence, product liability, and even battery. There are also a slew of agricultural statutes that could come into play. The company also faces the usual pressures of a criminal investigation where employees can turn informant or trigger additional liability by lying to federal investigators under 18 U.S.C. 1001.