Supervalu settles Chicago bias case for $3.2M

By McClatchy Tribune Newspapers
Posted Jan. 5 at 7:38 p.m.

Supervalu Inc. has agreed to pay $3.2 million to 110 workers to resolve allegations it systematically terminated disabled employees at Chicago-area 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 federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission had filed against Eden Prairie, Minn.-based Supervalu and its Jewel-Osco chain, the dominant supermarket operator in Chicago.

The EEOC 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.

Going back to 2003, about 1,000 Jewel workers were allegedly terminated under this policy, the EEOC claims. Not all of those former employees wanted to participate in the suit, or were found eligible to participate by the EEOC.

The 110 workers who will share the $3.2 million Supervalu payout will get $29,000 apiece on average. That per-person award is the highest ever in a discrimination case involving the Americans With Disabilities Act, said Ethan Cohen, a trial attorney in the EEOC’s Chicago office.

The previous high — $26,000 — came after a suit against Sears Holdings Corp. that also involved the alleged firing of workers returning from medical disability leaves. The Sears case, settled in September 2009, featured the largest total payout for an EEOC disabilities act suit: $6.2 million.

In light of the Supervalu and Sears cases, it appears there’s a “fairly common employment” practice of extending disability benefits with no intention of actually returning workers to a job, Cohen said.

“We get the sense that employers believe it’s cheaper to extend benefits to employees than to bring them back,” he said. “We hope that with this case and the Sears case we are sending a message that this is not an acceptable business practice.”

Supervalu, one of the nation’s largest supermarket chains with more than 2,000 stores nationwide, said in a statement that it believes it fully complied with the law.

“We ultimately chose to settle this case in order to avoid future litigation costs, put the matter behind us and focus on our current business initiatives. Supervalu and Jewel-Osco do not discriminate on the basis of disability. In fact, Jewel-Osco has been consistently recognized for its efforts to hire and accommodate people with disabilities.”

As is common in consent decrees, the government continues to maintain that Supervalu and Jewel did not comply with the law.

As part of the settlement, Jewel will hire consultants to review and recommend changes to its current job descriptions. The consultants will ensure the accuracy of physical requirements in job descriptions and make recommendations on possible accommodations for disabled employees returning to work.

The company also will have to report regularly to the EEOC on its efforts to accommodate disabled employees returning from medical leaves.


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  1. Amy Jan. 5 at 8:41 pm

    Time to switch to Dominick’s…although I’m not sure if they are any better. Pretty sad statement about today’s business world.

  2. Stephanie Jan. 6 at 11:42 a.m.

    This settlement, I’m sure, will cause Jewel to raise their already high prices.

  3. Sally Jan. 6 at 6:16 pm

    Jewel treats their associates like dirt!

  4. Theresa Jan. 7 at 8:24 a.m.

    Im glad for this suit, Jewel has been doing this for years. I recently was off for my back my doctor didnt want me working because of the lifting required for my position. Jewel denied my short term disability and I was forced to be off work with no pay. what gives them the right to make a decision like that over our doctors? Im glad they got nailed for this for all the employees they have screwed over the years!