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Judge: Supervalu/Jewel violated disability discrimination order

In Jan. 2011, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission won a lawsuit against Supervalu/Jewel Foods after the company terminated 110 people with disabilities after they ran out of leave time, and refused to provide reasonable accommodation for those who tried to return after a disability-related leave of absence. This was a clear violation of employees' rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA.

According to the lawsuit, Supervalu refused to allow employees with disabilities to return to work unless they could do so without any physical limitations or restrictions. Such a policy violated the ADA, and the court ordered an order based on a consent decree agreed upon by the parties in advance. The consent decree required Supervalu to pay the 110 employees $3.2 million in compensation for their wrongful termination, and ordered the company to comply with specific directives so it would comply with the law, including:

  • Ending its discriminatory policies
  • Providing reasonable accommodation for people with disabilities seeking to return after a disability-related leave of absence
  • Creating a medical accommodations administration team to facilitate employees' return from leave
  • Sending written return-to-work offers when employees' returns could be accommodated

In March of last year, the EEOC asked the court to hold Supervalu in contempt. The company had not been sending the return-to-work offers, and three employees had complained. The agency also asked for a discovery hearing to find out whether the company was still violating employee rights.

Supervalu responded by demanding that the EEOC file a new lawsuit if it wanted new discovery.

The federal judge has just ruled that no new trial is required, and that Supervalu must comply with the EEOC's demands. "The language [of the decree] is unambiguous," wrote the judge, "therefore, the Court finds that the alleged violations complained of are within the scope of the Decree and the [EEOC] properly seeks relief pursuant to the Decree."

"In contrast to other companies which have worked cooperatively with EEOC to meet their commitments under consent decrees," said an EEOC supervisory trial attorney, "Supervalu has repeatedly decided to resist the EEOC during the decree-monitoring process and now faces possible contempt sanctions for violating the injunction at the heart of this decree."

The judge ordered Supervalu to send written return-to-work offers to all employees who would have been eligible to return to work between Jan. 2011 and April 2012, even if the company had verbally made the offers.

Source: National Law Review, "Supervalu / Jewel Food Held in Contempt for Breaching Consent Decree Settling Earlier EEOC Disability Discrimination Suit," EEOC press release, April 7, 2013

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