A federal magistrate judge has recommended that the Supervalu Inc. supermarket chain be held in contempt of court and sanctioned for violating a court decree entered to resolve an Americans with Disabilities Act lawsuit against the Eden Prairie, Minnesota-based firm, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said.
The recommendation by Federal Magistrate Judge Michael Mason on Tuesday to the U.S. District Court in Chicago stems from a $3.2 million settlement of charges in January 2011 that Supervalu unit Jewel-Osco terminated employees with disabilities at the end of medical leave rather than bringing them back to work with reasonable accommodations.
The EEOC said Wednesday in a statement that Jewel-Osco has been under the terms of a three-year consent decree since the settlement.
The magistrate judge's ruling said “the evidence is overwhelming that the company did not do what it was supposed to do under the decree.” It said Jewel-Osco was in contempt of court when it violated the provision of the consent decree enjoining the company from discriminating “on the basis of disability by not providing reasonable accommodations to persons desiring to return to work from a disability leave.”
Judge Mason recommended that Jewel-Osco pay a total of $82,000 in back pay to three former employees who were denied accommodation. He also recommended that the court extend the consent decree by one year and order that a special master, paid by the company, review the decisions made by the company and its medical accommodations to ensure compliance with the decree.
“Consent decrees have teeth,” John Hendrickson, regional attorney in the EEOC's Chicago district office, said in the statement. “Courts do not look kindly upon open and notorious violations of the consent decrees they enter, nor, as this decision shows, upon employers who attempt to mischaracterize the evidence which the court itself has seen introduced. Jewel-Osco ought to have known better on both counts, and we must hope that Magistrate Judge Mason's findings will sound an alarm with respect to the company's compliance with the federal employment discrimination laws, including the ADA.”
Supervalu said in a statement that it divested itself of Jewel-Osco in March 2013 and therefore does not have any comment to offer on this decision. A Jewel-Osco spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment.