The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency charged with fighting workplace discrimination, said in a news release that US District Judge Wayne Anderson of the US District Court for the Northern District of Illinois ruled that its case against the giant retailer can move forward. Anderson turned away Sears’ requests to dismiss the EEOC’s action.
According to the EEOC, its case filed on behalf of Chicago-area employee John Bava alleged that Sears did not provide Bava with a reasonable accommodation after he was injured on the job. The EEOC charged that Sears violated federal law by firing Bava and other workers because they spent more than a year on disability leave, according to the news release.
In denying Sears’ motion to dismiss the case, Anderson wrote, “Even if the EEOC were required to plead a prima facie case of disability discrimination, we believe [the facts in the Complaint] would survive a [motion to dismiss.] As for the class allegations, the Complaint alleges that Sears ‘maintained an inflexible worker’s compensation one year leave policy which does not provide for reasonable accommodation of employees with disabilities. “We find that the issue of whether defendant’s leave policy fails to accommodate its disabled employees is an issue upon which defendants have been given notice and is a claim for which [EEOC is] entitled to discovery.”
According to the EEOC, Bava worked as a Service Technician out of Sears’ Waukegan Road store in Bannockburn, Illinois, north of Chicago. He was injured when he fell while on the job in April 2001. Although Bava took leave to recover, his injuries left him substantially impaired in his ability to perform physical tasks.
The agency said that within three months after his injury Bava sought placement in two less physically demanding positions for which he was qualified, but Sears refused to hire him in either position. Ultimately, his employment was terminated under Sears’ disability or worker’s compensation leave policy.
“Sears is an enormous operation and whether or not it complies with the ADA makes a huge difference to thousands of workers,” said John Hendrickson, EEOC Regional Attorney in Chicago, in the news release. “In EEOC’s view, sending individuals with disabilities home when they could be working and then firing them when they’ve been at home ‘too long’ cannot be squared with what the ADA requires of employers. So we are pleased with the Court’s decision that EEOC’s case is going to go forward.”