After over 25 years of discussions, proposals, court decisions, and failed legislative efforts, Ohio has amended its employment discrimination statute (Ohio Revised Code § 4112) to streamline and simplify the rules and procedures relating to claims of employment discrimination and to bring Ohio’s law more in line with federal anti-discrimination laws. Governor Mike DeWine signed the new legislation on January 12, and it will go into effect on April 15, 2021. The changes will not affect claims filed before that date.
The changes made by the Employment Law Uniformity Act are many, but can be summarized as follows:
- 2 Year Statute of Limitations – The new law reduces the statute of limitations from six (6) years for certain claims to a uniform two (2) years for all claims of discrimination. To pursue a claim of discrimination, employees first must file an administrative charge with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission (OCRC) within two (2) years of the occurrence of the allegedly discriminatory act. The time period for filing a lawsuit is tolled while the OCRC investigates and processes the charge.
- Charge Filing Requirement – Employees who wish to pursue a claim of discrimination under Ohio law must now file a charge of discrimination with the OCRC. Prior to these amendments, employees in Ohio could elect to file suit without filing a charge of discrimination, or they could pursue dual avenues of filing a lawsuit and a charge of discrimination simultaneously. As of April 15, employees will only file a civil suit after they have filed a charge and given the OCRC a minimum amount of time to investigate and respond.
- Caps on Damages – Many Ohio courts have held that the statutory caps on “tort” damages apply to discrimination claims under Ohio Revised Code § 4112. The new law codifies those decisions and caps non-economic compensatory damages (e.g., emotional distress) at $250,000 or three times the proven economic damages up to a maximum of $350,000, whichever is greater. It also limits punitive damage awards to two times the amount of allowable compensatory damages.
- No Liability for Individual Supervisors or Managers – Ever since the Ohio Supreme Court’s decision in Genaro v. Central Transport Inc. in 1999, Ohio law has allowed aggrieved employees to file discrimination claims against a supervisor in the supervisor’s individual capacity. This has allowed plaintiffs’ lawyers the opportunity to sue individual defendants to defeat the jurisdiction of federal courts and gain additional leverage. This is in direct contradiction to federal discrimination law, which bars claims against individual supervisors. The new statute bars individual liability for employment-related decisions and actions, as long as the supervisor is acting within the course and scope of his/her employment. The new law does not bar claims for conduct outside the scope of employment, such as assault, intentional infliction of emotional distress, defamation, etc.
- Age Is Just Another Claim – Prior versions of Ohio’s anti-discrimination statute had carved out numerous exceptions and special requirements for claims alleging age discrimination. The statute of limitations for age discrimination claims varied from 180 days for court action; 6 months for administrative action; to 6 years in certain circumstances. The Employment Law Uniformity Act treats age claims the same as any other claim of discrimination – aggrieved employees are required to file an administrative charge. The statute of limitations for age-related claims is two (2) years.
- Federal Affirmative Defense Codified – The United States Supreme Court established a good faith defense to claims of hostile environment discrimination and harassment under federal law in the twin 1998 case of Faragher v. City of Boca Raton and Burlington Industries, Inc. v. Ellerth. Ohio’s new law expressly adopts the rationale in Faragher/Ellerth and provides a complete defense to harassment claims if an accused employer can demonstrate that it adopted policies and procedures against harassment and the aggrieved employee either failed to comply with those policies and procedures, or the employer responded to the complaints and adequately addressed the alleged harassment. This codification serves as a reminder for Ohio employers to review their discrimination and harassment policies to ensure that they provide adequate avenues for complaints and effective investigative measures and remedies.
Overall, these amendments can be viewed as beneficial to both employers and employees, as they bring clarity and simplicity to the employment law landscape in Ohio. The employment lawyers at Wood + Lamping are well-versed in Ohio’s anti-discrimination laws and are happy to answer any questions you might have.