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EEOC Settles Disability Discrimination Case For $3.2 Million

Published by on January 12, 2011

On January 5, 2011, the EEOC issued a press release regarding resolution of a disability discrimination lawsuit against supermarket giants Supervalu, Inc., American Drug Stores LLC, and Jewel Food Stores, Inc. (collectively “Jewel-Osco”).  Jewel-Osco agreed to enter into a consent decree resolving the case with the EEOC by paying $3,200,000 as well as considerable non-monetary […]

On January 5, 2011, the EEOC issued a press release regarding resolution of a disability discrimination lawsuit against supermarket giants Supervalu, Inc., American Drug Stores LLC, and Jewel Food Stores, Inc. (collectively “Jewel-Osco”).  Jewel-Osco agreed to enter into a consent decree resolving the case with the EEOC by paying $3,200,000 as well as considerable non-monetary relief.  The case was important because it staked out the EEOC’s stance against policies of automatic termination at the end of disability-related medical leaves for employees that were not ready to return to work.  More after the break.

In the consent decree, the EEOC said that since Nov. 1, 2003, Jewel-Osco unlawfully terminated employees with disabilities at the end of medical leaves rather than bringing them back to work with reasonable accommodations.  According to the EEOC, Jewel-Osco prohibited employees who were on one-year paid disability leave from returning to work unless they could return without any accommodation to full service and had no physical or mental restrictions   The EEOC alleged that approximately 1,000 employees of Jewel-Osco stores in the greater Chicago area were allegedly terminated under this policy since 2003.  Not all of these former employees, however, wished to participate in the suit.  Notably, according to the EEOC, not all of these former employees were found eligible by the EEOC.

The consent decree resolving the case provides a $3.2 million fund in which 110 individuals will share, bringing the average award to just over $29,000 per claimant.  In addition to the monetary relief, Jewel-Osco is required to ensure that its employees involved in making accommodation decisions undergo training on the requirements of the ADA and on the types of accommodations that are available to return their employees to the workplace.

Under the consent decree, the company will have to report regularly to the EEOC on its efforts to accommodate employees with disabilities who are attempting to return from medical leaves of absence.  Jewel-Osco must also revise its communications with such employees to assure them that they don’t need to be 100 percent healed to be considered for a return to work and to notify them of the types of accommodations that might be available if they are considering returning to work with medical restrictions.  Jewel-Osco also will hire consultants to review and recommend changes to its current job descriptions, ensure that the descriptions of the physical requirements of the job are accurate and provide recommendations on possible accommodations to common work restrictions in various positions in the stores, the EEOC said.

Supervalu denied wrongdoing.  Luke Friedrich, a spokesman for Supervalu, said that “while Supervalu and Jewel-Osco believe that we’ve fully complied with the law, we ultimately chose to settle this case in order to avoid future litigation costs, put the matter behind us and focus on our current business initiatives. Supervalu and Jewel-Osco do not discriminate on the basis of disability.  In fact, Jewel-Osco has been consistently recognized for its efforts to hire and accommodate people with disabilities, receiving awards from multiple advocacy organizations and being named one of the top employers in Illinois for people with disabilities by the Illinois Department of Human Services’ Division of Rehabilitation Services. We remain committed to providing the best possible employment opportunities for all of our associates.”

A link to the EEOC press release can be found here.

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