One of the nation’s largest home improvement retailers will pay millions to settle claims that it fired thousands of workers with disabilities in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Lowe’s has agreed to pay $8.6 million to resolve allegations brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that the retailer “engaged in a pattern and practice of discrimination” against those with disabilities.

According to the EEOC lawsuit, Lowe’s terminated and did not provide reasonable accommodation to employees with disabilities if their medical leaves of absence exceeded the company’s maximum leave policy.

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Lowe’s allegedly fired workers “regarded as” having disabilities or associated with those who did, the suit claimed.

Under the agreement, Lowe’s will retain an ADA consultant to provide employee training, revise policies and develop a system to track accommodation requests.

In addition, the $8.6 million agreed to will be distributed to affected former employees.

“This settlement sends a clear message to employers that policies that limit the amount of leave may violate the ADA when they call for the automatic firing of employees with a disability after they reach a rigid, inflexible leave limit,” said EEOC General Counsel David Lopez. “We hope that our efforts here will encourage employers to voluntarily comply with the ADA.”

Karen Cobb, a spokeswoman for Lowe’s, said the company has taken steps to address the ADA concerns.

“We modified our leave of absence policies in 2010 to further inform employees of their rights under the ADA and have since centralized our leave-of-absence management to ensure consistency in applying our policies and help employees manage their leaves of absence and accommodations,” Cobb said. “We worked cooperatively with the EEOC to reach a fair resolution.”

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