Court Approves $6.2M Distribution to 235 Former Sears Employees

On Feb. 5, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission announced court approval of the distribution of a $6.2 million compensation fund in the landmark Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) litigation between EEOC and Sears, Roebuck & Co. The distribution is being carried out pursuant to the terms of a consent decree approved by Federal District Judge Wayne Anderson on Sept. 29, 2009.

In its lawsuit against Sears, EEOC had alleged that Sears maintained an inflexible worker's compensation leave exhaustion policy and terminated employees instead of providing them with reasonable accommodations for their disabilities, in violation of the ADA. The case resulted in the largest ADA settlement in a single lawsuit in EEOC history.

Under the terms of the decree, EEOC provided claim forms to certain Sears employees who had been terminated under Sears' worker's comp leave policy. The claimants were asked to report to EEOC, among other things, the extent of their impairments, their ability to return to work at Sears, and whether Sears had made any attempt to return them to work. Based on these criteria, EEOC found that 235 individuals were eligible to share in the settlement. The average award was approximately $26,300. EEOC found more than 20 claimants to be ineligible. As with all EEOC litigation, none of the settlement fund will retained by the Commission; all of it will be distributed, EEOC said.

"It is a satisfying day indeed when victims finally receive compensation for the wrongful discrimination they have endured," said EEOC Acting Chairman Stuart J. Ishimaru. "The EEOC is pleased and proud that we fought long and hard on this case to protect the rights of workers with disabilities, and that many Sears employees will now benefit from our law enforcement efforts."

Chicago Regional Attorney John Hendrickson said, "The Sears case has been a long haul, but now it's over -- this is it. The court has enjoined future discrimination by Sears and approved the amount of money each class member will receive for the particular discrimination he or she suffered. Their day for compensation is here, and as far as the EEOC is concerned, that makes it a good day for everyone involved."

EEOC Trial Attorney Aaron DeCamp noted that, in addition to the disbursement of settlement funds, EEOC is seeing positive effects from the consent decree. "As a result of the decree, we believe Sears has an improved worker's compensation leave process, and it has posted notices regarding the decree. We know that employees have been seeing the notices because we've been receiving inquiries as a result. So we think it's pretty clear that our lawsuit genuinely benefited the employees of Sears and strengthened the company's human resources processes."

The lawsuit (EEOC v. Sears Roebuck & Co., No. 04 C 7282), filed in November 2004, was assigned to Federal District Court Judge Wayne Anderson of the Northern District of Illinois and Magistrate Judge Susan Cox. Anderson entered the order approving the monetary distributions on Feb. 4.

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