Posted On: October 2, 2009 by Steven J. Malman

Sears, Accused of Maintaining Inflexible Workers’ Compensation Leave Policy, Settles Class Action Lawsuit for $6.2 Million

In a record-setting consent degree, Sears, Roebuck, & Co. will pay $6.2 million to settle a class action lawsuit over disability bias as it related to the company’s workers' compensation leave exhaustion policy. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission lawsuit accused Sears of firing employees who became disabled after getting injured during work injury accidents rather than taking steps to reasonably accommodate their disabilities so that they could go back to work.

The American with Disabilities Act case stems from a discrimination charged filed by John Bava, a former Sears service technician. Bava, who became disabled when he injured his knees, back, and wrist during a fall accident down a flight of stairs while working at the home of a customer, took workers’ compensation leave. He then made a number of attempts to go back to work. However, according to EEOC Chicago District Director John Rowe, Sears was never able to make accommodations that would allow him to return to his job. When Bava's workers’ compensation leave expired, he was fired.

The EEOC Chicago District Office is accusing Sears of not attempting to make reasonable accommodations that would allow disabled workers to go back to work or take an extended leave. Instead, the EEOC says contends that Sears fired hundreds of workers who had gone on workers’ compensation leave. Some of the terminated employees didn’t know they had been fired until their discount cards were turned down when they went shopping at Sears.

Per the three-year consent degree, Sears must amend its workers’ compensation leave policy, provide training about the ADA to workers, submit written reports to the EEOC demonstrating how its workers’ compensation practices are in compliance, and post decree notices at all Sears.

A final hearing will take place early next year to determine the fairness of individual distributions from the settlement fund. Sears, however, continues to maintain that despite agreeing to the settlement, the company reasonably accommodates workers who go on leave for work injuries or illnesses.

Illinois Workers’ Compensation
Most Illinois workers are entitled to Illinois workers’ compensation. It is against the law to fire a worker for availing of their work injury benefits. Specific injury compensation is provided for those who sustain some type of disability during an Illinois work accident.

Sears settles lawsuit with disabled former worker for $6.2M, Chicago Sun-Times, September 29, 2009

Sears Settles Discrimination Lawsuit for $6.2 Million, Workforce Management, September 30, 2009

Related Web Resources:
The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, Titles I and V

US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

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