Jewel-Osco, an operating unit of national grocery giant Supervalu, Inc., has been violating federal anti-discrimination law by its leave and disability policies, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit it filed today.
According to the EEOC's suit, Jewel-Osco is alleged to have refused to allow qualified employees with disabilities who are on authorized disability leave, or who are eligible for it, to return to work if they have any work restrictions, and to have terminated them if they reach the one-year mark on leave. The EEOC also charges that the company has refused to allow qualified employees with disabilities to be assigned to temporary light duty jobs unless they were injured on the job.
In addition, the EEOC contends, Jewel-Osco failed to stop the harassment of an employee disabled by a seizure disorder at its Melrose Park, Ill., warehouse. Among other things said to him, the EEOC maintains, was 'Go have a seizure and crawl on the floor.'"
The EEOC asserts that all this alleged conduct violates the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA).
The EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, EEOC v. SUPERVALU, INC. a Delaware corporation, and JEWEL-OSCO, an operating unit of SUPERVALU, INC., No. 09 CV 5637, assigned to District Judge Richard Guzman and Magistrate Judge Michael Mason, after first attempting to reach a voluntary settlement.
EEOC Chicago District Director John Rowe, who supervised the administrative investigation which the agency conducted before filing suit, said, "The findings of our investigation were troubling. What we learned indicated to us that Jewel-Osco was apparently not moved to implement its leave policies in a way which might have brought capable disabled employees who had been on leave back to work-instead, they were shut out. We also learned about apparent on-the-job harassment of a disabled employee which was far out of bounds."
EEOC Chicago Regional Attorney John Hendrickson said, "Whether discrimination on the basis of disability strikes at classes of employees or at a single individual, it violates the ADA. Whether the issue is one of leave or termination, accommodation or harassment, the lesson is the same --federal law requires that qualified individuals with disabilities be accorded a fair shot on the job. This case is going to be about seeing how this employer measured up against that standard."
Today's lawsuit is the second recently filed in Chicago by the EEOC against Jewel-Osco under the ADA. On September 4, 2009, the agency filed suit against the company, charging that it had failed to reasonably accommodate a pharmacy employee at its 183rd Street store in Homewood, Ill.; the employee suffered from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and severe allergic reactions to cosmetic fragrances. The September 4 case (N.D. Ill. No. 09 CV 5504) has been assigned to District Judge Elaine E. Bucklo. Supervisory Trial Attorney Gregory Gochanour and Trial Attorney Gordon Waldron of the EEOC Chicago District Office will lead the agency's litigation team on todays case. The EEOC Chicago District Office is responsible for processing charges of discrimination, administrative enforcement, and the conduct of agency litigation in Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, and North and South Dakota, with Area Offices in Milwaukee and Minneapolis.
According to company information, Minneapolis-based Supervalu operates a store network with more than 2,500 locations under various brand names.
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the Commission is available on its web site at www.eeoc.gov.