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Court Approves $6.2 Million Dollar Settlement Between EEOC and Sears

Court Approves $6.2 Million Dollar Settlement Between EEOC and Sears

Earlier this month, the EEOC announced that the agency had secured its largest Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) settlement in history. The case against Sears Roebuck & Co was brought in the Northern District of Illinois in 2004 and just this month resulted in a court approved settlement. 

In the lawsuit, the EEOC claimed that Sears implemented an inflexible workers’ compensation leave exhaustion policy and terminated employees without  providing reasonable accommodations.  The EEOC press release describes the recovery as “landmark” and notes that the sums will be shared among 235 former employees.  The EEOC also notes that it required individuals to submit claim forms which asked them to describe “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.”  The EEOC apparently reviewed the criteria and determined that 235 individuals were eligible to share in the settlement.  The EEOC also confirms that the average award is approximately $26,300 and “more than twenty” claimants were found ineligible.  Finally, the EEOC indicated that “none of the settlement fund will retained by the EEOC; all of it will be distributed”

No doubt, this litigation has been closely observed for a few reasons.  First, the lawsuit marks the agency’s tenacity and determination, particularly on matters in which the EEOC perceives systemic or pattern activity.  In addition, the case delved into a topic that is often challenging to human resource professionals:  the intersection between the ADA and worker’s compensation impairments.  One of the many “take aways” from this litigation is that employers must carefully evaluate each individual’s circumstances and needs.  A one-size-fits-all approach will likely draw unwanted scrutiny.