Sears Settles Disability Discrimination Suit for $6.2M

October 2, 2009 ( - The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has announced the entry of what it calls a "record-setting" consent decree for $6.2 million resolving a class action lawsuit against Sears, Roebuck and Co. (Sears) under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

According to the EEOC announcement, the consent decree represents the largest ADA settlement in a single lawsuit in EEOC history. The suit alleged that Sears maintained an inflexible workers’ compensation leave exhaustion policy and terminated employees after 12 months of leave instead of providing them with reasonable accommodations for their disabilities.

The case arose from a charge of discrimination filed with the EEOC by a former Sears service technician, John Bava, who was injured on the job, took workers’ compensation leave, and repeatedly attempted to return to work in less demanding positions. Instead of providing Bava with a reasonable accommodation, Sears fired him when his leave expired, according to the EEOC (see Judge Clears Path for Sears ADA Lawsuit ).

Regional Attorney John Hendrickson of the EEOC Chicago District Office said in the announcement that pre-trial discovery in the lawsuit revealed that hundreds of other employees who had taken workers’ compensation leave were also terminated by Sears instead of Sears 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.

Greg Gochanour, EEOC supervisory trial attorney in Chicago, said some of the employees found out about their termination when their discount cards were rejected while shopping at Sears

In addition to providing monetary relief, the three-year consent decree includes an injunction against violation of the ADA and retaliation, and requires Sears to 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.

The announcement said the court will hold a final hearing, currently slated for approximately February 2010, to make a final determination as to the fairness of the individual distributions from the $6.2 million settlement fund.

The EEOC has filed a similar complaint against UPS, which also has a 12-month leave policy (see EEOC Claims UPS Medical Leave Policy is Discriminatory ).