NEW YORK — Two federal judges on Tuesday approved a $158 million settlement for 190,000 bankrupt customers of Sears, Roebuck & Co. who claimed the retailer improperly pressured them to pay off their store credit cards after their debts were erased in bankruptcy filings.
The customers should begin receiving refund checks averaging $834 each in December, according to John Roddy, lawyer for the plaintiffs.
While companies have a right to renegotiate the debts of customers who have filed for bankruptcy court protection from their creditors, such “reaffirmation agreements” must be approved by a bankruptcy judge.
Sears failed to file the agreements with bankruptcy court, as required by law.
The award is at the high end of the range Sears estimated it would owe back in June, when attorneys for the retailer appeared before Judge Carol J. Kenner of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Massachusetts to outline terms of the proposed agreement.
“We expect to return between $90 million and $160 million to consumers,” Sears chief executive officer Arthur Martinez said, in a media conference call after the hearing.
“It is the settlement that we had proposed back in June, so we’re very pleased that we were able to bring it to conclusion,” a Sears spokeswoman said Wednesday. “We believe that it is a fair, reasonable and generous settlement to the debtors, so we’re ready to go forward with making the restitution.”
During a hearing in Federal Court Tuesday, Judge Kenner and U.S. District Court Judge Patti B. Saris said they would approve the settlement.
Sears, which is based in Hoffman Estates, Ill., admitted it improperly or illegally collected debts from customers who filed for bankruptcy as far back as 1985.

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