Supermarket to pay millions in discrimination case

Supervalu Inc. will pay $3.2 million to 110 individuals illegally fired from stores in its Chicago-based Jewel-Osco supermarket chain in one of the largest employment discrimination cases ever under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

From 2003 to 2009, the supermarket terminated the employment of about 1,000 employees with disabilities at the end of their medical leaves of absence, rather than make reasonable accommodations so they could return to work. Under the settlement, signed by a federal judge in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, the store must pay $29,000 to 110 of these individuals and establish a policy that individuals won’t have to be 100 percent healed to return to work.

“It is vital that employers understand that the primary goal of the (Americans with Disabilities Act) is to allow people with disabilities to be active and productive members of the work force,” said John Hendrickson, regional attorney in the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s Chicago District Office in a news release. “Sending them home, with reduced or no pay, and without the ability to advance, thwarts that purpose.

The per-person award is the highest ever in a discrimination case involving the Americans with Disabilities Act, topping the $26,000 per person in a case involving Sears in 2009 that involved a similar practice of firing workers returning from medical leave, according to an article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. The Sears case totaled $6.2 million, the largest total payout ever for an EEOC disabilities discrimination lawsuit.

As part of the settlement, Jewel must hire consultant to review changes to job description and must report regularly its effort to accommodate people with disabilities to the EEOC.