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Supervalu held in contempt in disability wrongful termination case

In 2009, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued Supervalu's Midwest division after 110 employees with disabilities were refused the chance to return to work after disability-related leaves of absence unless they could do so without any job restrictions or limitations. In 2011, a federal judge ruled that the practice violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and ordered the company to pay the workers $3.2 million for wrongful termination and the denial of reasonable disability accommodations.

The judge also ordered the company to comply with a 3-year consent decree, requiring it to take specific action to end its discriminatory policy. Supervalu, which operates some Albertson's and Lucky Stores supermarkets in California, was enjoined from putting barriers in the way of people who sought to return to work after a disability leave. They were supposed to set up a medical accommodations administrative team to cooperate with employees who wanted to return to work, and they were supposed to send a written return-to-work letter to all such employees when their disabilities could be accommodated.

The company did not meet those obligations.

"In contrast to other companies which have worked cooperatively with EEOC to meet their commitments under consent decrees," commented a supervisory trial attorney for the EEOC's regional office in Chicago," 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 has just held the company in contempt of court for failing, at the very least, to send the right-to-work letters, which resulted in some additional involuntary termination claims.

"[F]ailure to send written return-to-work letters to all of those it identified were capable of returning to work constitutes a violation of the Decree that is more than harmless error," wrote the judge. He ordered the company to send the letters to every employee who could have returned to work between Jan. 2011 and April 2012, even if the company has already notified them verbally.

"This ruling confirms that the EEOC can and will act to enforce the court's orders, embodied in a decree, when we find violations and the employer is unwilling to provide appropriate remedies" says the EEOC.

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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