Friday, October 2, 2009
Earlier this week, the EEOC reported that it had reached a settlement with Sears, Roebuck & Co in a class-action suit under the ADA. In EEOC v. Sears Roebuck & Co., N.D. Ill. No. 04 C 7282, The EEOC alleged that Sears Sears maintained an inflexible workers' compensation leave exhaustion policy and terminated employees instead of providing them with reasonable accommodations for their disabilities, in violation of the ADA. The settlement provides $6.2 million for the class members, and significant injunctive relief.
EEOC Chicago District Director John Rowe, who supervised the agency's administrative investigation preceding the lawsuit, said that the case arose from a charge of discrimination filed with the EEOC by a former Sears service technician, John Bava. According to Rowe, Bava was injured on the job, took workers' compensation leave, and, although remaining disabled by the injuries, repeatedly attempted to return to work. Sears, Rowe said, "Could never see its way clear to provide Bava with a reasonable accommodation which would have put him back to work and, instead, fired him when his leave expired."
Regional Attorney John Hendrickson of the EEOC Chicago District Office said pre-trial discovery in the lawsuit revealed that hundreds of other employees who had taken workers' compensation leave were also terminated by Sears without seriously considering reasonable accommodations to return them to work while they were on leave, or seriously considering whether a brief extension of their leave would make their return possible.
"The era of employers being able to inflexibly and universally apply a leave limits policy without seriously considering the reasonable accommodation requirements of the ADA are over," Hendrickson said. "Just as it is a truism that never having to come to work is manifestly not a reasonable accommodation, it is also true that inflexible leave policies which ignore reasonable accommodations making it possible to get employees back on the job cannot survive under federal law. Today's consent decree is a bright line marker of that reality."
In addition to providing monetary relief, the three-year consent decree includes an injunction against violation of the ADA and retaliation. It requires, in addition, that Sears will amend its workers' compensation leave policy, provide written reports to the EEOC detailing its workers' compensation practices' compliance with the ADA, train its employees regarding the ADA, and post a notice of the decree at all Sears locations.
According to Greg Gochanour, EEOC supervisory trial attorney in Chicago, "This is not merely a garden variety so-called 'cost of litigation' settlement. We discovered well over a hundred former employees who wanted to return to work with an accommodation, but were terminated by Sears - and some of them found it out when their discount cards were rejected while shopping at Sears. We believe Sears' decision to accept this decree makes good sense."
There will be a hearing in February to determine the fairness of the monetary settlement to the individual class members.
Hat tip: PS