U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
Court Holds Supervalu/Jewel-Osco in Contempt for Violations of EEOC Consent Decree in Disability Case
Federal Agency Obtains Relief for Three Jewel Employees Denied Accommodation; Extension of Consent Decree by One Year; Jewel to Pay EEOC Attorneys' Fees
CHICAGO - Federal District Judge Ronald A. Guzman has entered a final opinion and order finding Supervalu/Jewel-Osco in contempt of court for multiple violations of the consent decree previously entered by the court to resolve the EEOC's Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) lawsuit against the supermarket giant.
Ruling on objections Jewel-Osco had filed to a magistrate judge's report and recommendation, made after a three-day hearing in March and April 2014 that found that Jewel had violated the consent decree, Judge Guzman found on December 2 that Jewel failed to conduct an interactive process with and provide accommodations to three former Jewel-Osco employees who attempted to return to work from medical leaves of absence.
The court observed that, "[T]he evidence shows that, in making the determination that these employees could not be accommodated, the company disregarded its own interactive process guidelines, failed to even consider the myriad resources available (at no cost or at minimal cost) to assist it in identifying or fashioning reasonable accommodations for these employees, and failed to consider reassignment." Judge Guzman also said with respect to Jewel-Osco's failures as to the three employees, "The evidence presented at the hearing demonstrated that Jewel did not look for or consider open positions or minor adjustments."
Finding Jewel-Osco in contempt of court for its violations of the consent decree, Judge Guzman approved the magistrate judge's recommendation that the three employees be awarded just over $82,000 in back pay, that certain provisions of the consent decree be extended by a year and that Jewel-Osco pay EEOC its attorneys' fees and costs in pursuing the contempt action. The only modification that Judge Guzman made to the magistrate's recommendation was to rule that the decree be extended by a year beginning from the date of his order rather than from the date of magistrate's recommendation, and to find that the appointment of a special master was not necessary because, "the EEOC has done a commendable job in monitoring Defendants' compliance with the consent decree and the Court can discern no basis on which to conclude that its continued oversight would be insufficient."
"Consent decrees are an important part of the EEOC's enforcement regime," said Regional Attorney John Hendrickson of the EEOC's Chicago District Office. "The EEOC does not rush to have companies held in contempt of court for violating consent decrees; in fact it is very rare. But as this case should make clear, when an employer has violated a decree and refused to come into compliance even after the EEOC has brought its failures to its attention and has attempted to resolve the matter informally, it will not hesitate to seek the courts' assistance in forcing employers to live up to the agreements they have entered into."
Jewel-Osco has been under the terms of a three-year consent decree, approved and entered by Judge Guzman on Jan. 14, 2011. That decree resolved the EEOC's lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois (EEOC v. Supervalu, 09-cv-5637). The lawsuit, which was originally filed Sept. 4, 2009, alleged that Jewel-Osco had violated the ADA by failing to accommodate employees who wanted to return to work from disability leave. Under the terms of the decree, in addition to reforming its ADA policies and practice, Jewel-Osco had to pay $3.2 million to former employees.
EEOC Trial Attorney Richard Mrizek said, "The evidence presented at the hearing made it clear that there were numerous accommodations available that would have allowed these employees to return to work at little or no cost to Jewel-Osco. The company's failure to bring them back to work was a willful and inexcusable violation of the decree."
Trial Attorney Deborah Hamilton added, "Through the litigation of this case and by the terms of the decree itself, Jewel-Osco was provided with abundant information on how employees could be accommodated. Unfortunately, it chose to ignore this information, and now has to pay the price for this stubborn unwillingness to abide by the law."
The EEOC was represented at the contempt hearing by Chicago Trial Attorneys Richard Mrizek, Deborah Hamilton, and Ethan Cohen, under the supervision of Gregory Gochanour. 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.
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination.
Further information about the agency is available on its web site at www.eeoc.gov.