The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on Friday sued Jewel-Osco and its corporate parent, saying the Chicago area’s biggest supermarket chain violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Since November 2003, Jewel-Osco allegedly prohibited employees on a one-year paid disability leave from returning to work unless they had no mental or physical restrictions, or unless they could return to work “without any accommodation to full service,” the EEOC alleges.
Instead, those employees were terminated after the one-year disability leave, said a suit by the EEOC filed in U.S. District Court in Chicago.
Jewel acted with “malice or with reckless indifference to the federally protected rights” of five named workers and “a class of similarly situated disabled employees.”
The suit also said Jewel, which is owned by Minnesota-based Supervalu Inc., prohibited disabled workers who weren’t injured on the job from participating in a 90-day light-duty program.
Regarding that claim, the EEOC also claims Jewel acted with “with malice or with reckless indifference” to the rights of disabled employees, specifically mentioning a worker named Anthony Kwit. The EEOC also claims Kwit was harassed because of his disability.
“Jewel-Osco has not yet been served with or had the opportunity to review the EEOC lawsuit,” Supervalu said in an e-mail. “However, as a matter of policy we do not provide further information on pending legal matters.”
The EEOC is seeking back pay with interest; compensation for emotional pain and suffering and other non-monetary losses; and punitive damages for “malicious and reckless conduct.” In addition, the EEOC is asking for an injunction barring Jewel from discriminating on the basis of disability.