235 Former Employees Terminated at End of Workers’ Compensation Leaves of Absence to Share Settlement Proceeds After Participating in Claims Process
CHICAGO – The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) today announced court approval of the distribution of a $6,200,000 compensation fund in the landmark Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) litigation between the EEOC and Sears, Roebuck & Co. The distribution is being carried out pursuant to the terms of a consent decree approved by Federal District Judge Wayne Anderson on September 29, 2009. In its lawsuit against Sears, the EEOC had alleged that 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 case resulted in the largest ADA settlement in a single lawsuit in EEOC history.
Under the terms of the decree, the EEOC provided claim forms to certain Sears employees who had been terminated under Sears’ workers’ compensation leave policy. The claimants were asked to report to the EEOC, among other things, the extent of their impairments, their ability to return to work at Sears, and whether Sears had made any attempt to return them to work. Based on these criteria, the EEOC found that 235 individuals were eligible to share in the settlement. The average award was approximately $26,300. More than twenty claimants were found to be ineligible by the EEOC. As with all EEOC litigation, none of the settlement fund will retained by the EEOC; all of it will be distributed.
“It is a satisfying day indeed when victims finally receive compensation for the wrongful discrimination they have endured,” said EEOC Acting Chairman Stuart J. Ishimaru. “The EEOC is pleased and proud that we fought long and hard on this case to protect the rights of workers with disabilities, and that many Sears employees will now benefit from our law enforcement efforts.”
Chicago Regional Attorney John Hendrickson said, “The Sears case has been a long haul, but now it’s over—this is it. The court has enjoined future discrimination by Sears and approved the amount of money each class member will receive for the particular discrimination he or she suffered. Their day for compensation is here, and as far as the EEOC is concerned, that makes it a good day for everyone involved.”
EEOC Trial Attorney Aaron DeCamp noted that, in addition to the disbursement of settlement funds, the EEOC is seeing positive effects from the consent decree. “As a result of the decree, we believe Sears has an improved workers’ compensation leave process, and it has posted notices regarding the decree. We know that employees have been seeing the notices because we’ve been receiving inquiries as a result. So we think it’s pretty clear that our lawsuit genuinely benefited the employees of Sears and strengthened the company’s human resources processes.”
The lawsuit, filed in November 2004, was assigned to Federal District Court Judge Wayne Anderson of the Northern District of Illinois and Magistrate Judge Susan Cox, and is captioned EEOC v. Sears Roebuck & Co., N.D. Ill. No. 04 C 7282. Judge Anderson entered the order approving the monetary distributions on February 4.
The EEOC litigation team included, in addition to Hendrickson and DeCamp, Supervisory Trial Attorney Gregory Gochanour and Trial Attorneys Ethan Cohen, Deborah Hamilton and Laurie Elkin.
The EEOC Chicago District Office is responsible for processing charges of discrimination, administrative enforcement, and the conduct of agency litigation in Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, and North and South Dakota, with Area Offices in Milwaukee and Minneapolis.
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on the agency’s web site at www.eeoc.gov.