The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently set a record for the largest settlement in a single lawsuit in the agency's history. The EEOC had sued Sears, Roebuck, and Co. under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), alleging that the company maintained an inflexible Workers' Compensation leave exhaustion policy and terminated employees when the leave expired, instead of providing them with an accommodation for their disabilities.
The case arose from a charge filed by a former service technician who the EEOC alleged was injured on the job, took Workers' Comp leave, and, although remaining disabled by the injuries, repeatedly tried to return to work. Instead of providing a reasonable accommodation that would have put the employee back to work, Sears fired him when his leave expired.
The EEOC then discovered that hundreds of other employees who had taken Workers' Comp leave were also terminated without 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.
EEOC: "The era of employers being able to inflexibly and universally apply a leave-limits policy without seriously considering the reasonable accommodation requirements of the ADA [is] over. Just as it is a truism that never having to come to work is manifestly not a reasonable accommodation, it is also true that inflexible leave policies which ignore reasonable accommodations making it possible to get employees back on the job cannot survive under federal law."
Sears agreed to pay $6.2 million — the largest monetary amount ever in a single EEOC ADA lawsuit. Under the consent decree, which was approved by a federal district judge in September, Sears will also amend its Workers' Compensation leave policy, provide written reports to the EEOC detailing its Workers' Comp practices' compliance with the ADA, train its employees regarding the ADA, and post a notice of the decree at all Sears locations. The court will hold a final hearing early next year to make a final determination as to the fairness of the individual distributions from the $6.2 million settlement fund. (EEOC v. Sears, Roebuck and Co., N.D.IL, No. 04 C 7282, 2009)