The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

PRESS RELEASE
9-4-09

EEOC SUES SUPERVALU/JEWEL-OSCO FOR DISABILITY BIAS AGAINST PHARMACY WORKER WITH PULMONARY DISEASE

CHICAGO – The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) today filed a disability discrimination lawsuit in federal court here charging that Jewel-Osco, an operating unit of national grocery giant Supevalu, Inc., refused to accommodate a pharmacy worker with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, known as COPD, and severe allergic reactions to cosmetic fragrances.

The suit, filed under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), alleges that Jewel-Osco denied the request of the employee with COPD that her co-workers in the pharmacy of the store at 3253 W. 183rd St. in Homewood, Ill., be asked not to wear fragrances, such as cologne and after-shave, while working in the pharmacy with her. Due to her COPD, this employee required the use of supplemental oxygen from a portable tank at work, and once passed out in the workplace and was taken to a hospital by ambulance because of a severe allergic reaction to a co-worker’s fragrance.

“For this employee, the presence of cosmetic fragrance in the limited workspace of the pharmacy was a serious health issue with serious medical consequences,” said EEOC Chicago District Director John Rowe, who oversaw the agency’s administrative investigation. “Based on our investigation, we made an administrative determination that Jewel-Osco failed to abide by the ADA in providing a reasonable accommodation that would have allowed this worker with a disability to effectively perform her essential job functions.”

The suit, captioned EEOC v. SUPERVALU, INC. a Delaware corporation, and JEWEL-OSCO, an operating unit of SUPERVALU, INC., No. 09 CV 5504, and assigned to District Judge Elaine E. Bucklo and Magistrate Judge Maria G. Valdez, was filed after the EEOC’s efforts to voluntarily conciliate the matter with Jewel proved futile.

EEOC Chicago Regional Attorney John Hendrickson said, “Our position in this case is that Jewel-Osco could have raised the issue with the few employees who worked in the pharmacy with the charging party who had COPD. Together, we contend, they could have explored how her disability might have been accommodated in a way which would have satisfied both the charging party and her co-workers, without any undue hardship for Jewel-Osco. Any employer who declines to make a genuine good faith effort to reasonably accommodate a disabled employee runs afoul of federal law, and this case will turn on that issue.”

Supervisory Trial Attorney Gregory Gochanour and Trial Attorney Gordon Waldron of the EEOC Chicago District Office will lead the agency’s litigation team on the case. 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 Commission is available on its web site at www.eeoc.gov.


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