Judge recommends that grocery chain be held in contempt, again

Photo of a gavel and stethoscope
Medical leave policies

A federal judge has recommended that Supervalu Inc. be held in contempt and sanctioned for violating a consent decree with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, for its alleged continuous failure to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act medical leave requirements.

“This should put companies on notice that we do pay attention to what happens after we have settled and do expect them to uphold their end of their bargain,” EEOC attorney Ethan Cohen told the Chicago Tribune. “We don’t want to fight with companies all over again.”

In January 2011, the EEOC reached a settlement with the Supervalu Inc. regarding its medical leave policy at its Chicago-based Jewel-Osco supermarket chain stores.

The settlement required the company to pay about $3.2 million to 110 employees who were allegedly illegally fired at the end of their one-year medical absences. At $29,000 per employee, the award was the highest ever for an ADA discrimination case.

Although the ADA imposes a duty on employers to provide reasonable accommodations to employees seeking to return to work from medical leave, Supervalu Inc. had a policy of prohibiting these employees from returning unless they could resume work without accommodations.

The settlement also required Supervalu Inc. to send written job offers to employees illegally fired, who were capable of returning to work.

In April 2013, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, upon the request of the EEOC, held the company in contempt for violating the consent decree. The order was triggered by the company’s failure to provide written job offers to three former employees.

Last month, U.S. Magistrate Judge Michael Mason entered a 51-page Report and Recommendation, in the form of a court order, finding “clear and convincing evidence” that Supervalu Inc.’s leave policies continue to violate the ADA and chastised the company for failing to accommodate the three employees.

“Regardless of how the company’s rigorous process was supposed to work – there was little or no effort to come up with any sort of modification or accommodation that would allow the employee to return to work,” the report stated.

Judge Mason recommended that the three-year consent decree be extended for another year, that the court appoint a Special Master to review the company’s medical leave decisions, and the three employees receive $82,000 in backpay.

The recommendations have now been forwarded to U.S. District Court Judge Ronald Guzman, who has presided over the lawsuit since it was originally filed in 2009.