'Inflexible' WC leave policy leads to record payout for Sears
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said the consent decree is the largest Americans with Disabilities Act settlement in a single lawsuit in the agency's history. The case is Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Sears, Roebuck and Co., No. 04 C 7282 (N.D. Ill. consent decree approved 09/29/09).
The EEOC filed the action in 2004, alleging that Sears violated Title I of the ADA by terminating hundreds of employees who had exceeded the retailer's "inflexible" one-year workers' comp leave policy. According to the EEOC, after one year, Sears automatically terminated employees who were on workers' comp leave due to a disability from a work-related injury. It also alleged the company failed to accommodate these employees. According to the EEOC, appropriate accommodations could have included an extension of the one-year leave of absence period or returning the employee to work with an accommodation.
As part of the consent decree, which will last three years, Sears agreed to revise its workers' comp leave policies. The company will send a certified letter to injured workers who are out on leave at least 45 days prior to the end of their leave periods and inform them of their right to request a reasonable accommodation to return to work. The consent decree specifies that reasonable accommodations include modified duty, part-time work, reassignment to a different position, additional leave, and assistive devices.
In addition, Sears agreed not to terminate any employee at the end of the workers' comp leave period without the approval of a new centralized leave management team at the company. Sears also agreed to provide a "final notice" letter to workers who did not respond to the prior inquiry at least 10 days before termination.
The consent decree also enjoins Sears from violating the ADA and requires it to report to the EEOC on its compliance efforts and provide employee training on the ADA.
During the litigation, Sears denied that its policy failed to provide for reasonable accommodation of employees with disabilities and denied that its policy "inflexibly provided for termination of such employees' employment." Sears further contended that many of the employees were not qualified individuals with disabilities under the ADA or asserted claims that were time-barred by the applicable statute of limitation.
Sears did not admit to liability in the settlement.
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October 29, 2009
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