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EEOC slaps Supervalu over firing of injured employees

Supervalu Inc. has agreed to pay $3.2 million to 110 workers to resolve allegations it systematically terminated disabled
employees at Chicago supermarkets, one of the largest such settlements under the Americans With Disabilities Act.

A federal judge in Chicago signed a consent decree this week resolving a 2009 class-action suit the Equal Employment
Opportunity Commission had filed against Supervalu’s Jewel-Osco chain.  The EEOC had alleged that Jewel had a “policy and
practice” of terminating employees with disabilities at the end of their medical leaves, instead of bringing them back to work with
reasonable accommodations — as required by the Americans With Disabilities Act.  Since 2003, about 1,000 Jewel  workers were allegedly terminated under this policy, the EEOC claims. The 110 workers who will share the $3.2  million will get an average of $29,000 each.  That per-person award is the highest ever in a discrimination case involving the Americans With Disabilities Act according to the EEOC.

In September 2009, the EEOC settled a with Sears over a similar claim involving the alleged firing of workers returning from medical disability leaves.  Based on these cases, at least one EEOC attorney has suggested that there is a “fairly common employment” practice of extending disability benefits with no intention of actually returning workers to a job.
The lesson for employers: evalulate each disabled worker, and his or her ability to return to work with or without accommodation, individually.  Nothing says “class action” like a blanket policy.

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