Joele Frank is working the bankruptcy filing of J.C. Penney as the 118-year-old retailer blames the COVID-19 pandemic for spurring an accelerated financial restructuring program.

Prior to the pandemic, Penney had made progress on its "plan for renewal" strategy, according to CEO Jill Soltau, but the closing of stores due to the health emergency, "necessitated a more fulsome review to include the elimination of outstanding debt."

The Chapter 11 protection enables Penney to step up its store optimization effort, which includes reducing the "store footprint to better align its business with the current operating environment."

Soltau will close stores in phases during the restructuring, with the first shutdowns announced in the coming weeks.

Joele Frank Wilkinson Brimmer Katcher has Meaghan Repko, Jed Repko and Dan Moore on the Penney restructuring.