In January, Governor Mike DeWine signed into law the Employment Law Uniformity Act, amending the employment protections in the Ohio Civil Rights Act in several significant ways. Such changes to the state’s anti-discrimination and anti-harassment laws have been considered and debated for years and finally made their way into Ohio law.
What has changed for employment claims under the amended Ohio Civil Rights Act?
- Statute of Limitations: The statute of limitations for employment discrimination claims has been reduced from 6 to 2 years, bringing Ohio in line with federal law.
- Administrative Remedies: Prior to filing suit in court alleging employment discrimination, individuals must first exhaust administrative remedies by filing a charge with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission and obtaining a right-to-sue-letter. Filing a charge tolls the statute of limitations during pendency and for 60 days after closure of the charge. The deadline to file a charge has been expanded from 180 days to 2 years after the alleged discrimination.
- Supervisor Liability: Personal liability for supervisors, managers, and coworkers for discrimination or harassment has been eliminated except in limited circumstances. This brings state law more in line with federal and will likely curtail a very common practice by plaintiffs' attorneys in Ohio of suing supervisors in their individual capacity.
- Sexual Harassment Defense: The employer’s affirmative defense for sexual harassment claims has been codified and mirrors the Faragher/Ellerth affirmative defense established by the U.S. Supreme Court and already recognized by Ohio courts. An employer may assert an affirmative defense against hostile work environment sexual harassment claims if it had anti-harassment policies and complaint procedures in place, and the employee unreasonably failed to take advantage of them. This defense is not available if the harassment was committed by a supervisor and also resulted in a tangible employment action such as firing, demotion, etc.
- Age Discrimination: The Employment Law Uniformity Act has also simplified the tangled web of age discrimination claims that existed in Ohio, which had varying statutes of limitations, administrative exhaustion requirements, and remedies. The characteristics of age discrimination claims have been harmonized with other employment claims under the Ohio Civil Rights Act.
When do the changes go into effect?
- The Employment Law Uniformity Act becomes effective April 15, 2021.
What actions should employers take now?
- The most important thing Ohio employers need to do as a result of these amendments is review their policies and procedures to ensure that they have anti-harassment provisions and reporting procedures in place and provide training to their employees. Effective policies, procedures, and training can help prevent sexual harassment in the workplace, ensure prompt action when a complaint arises, and mitigate liability if legal action ensues.
The Labor and Employment team at BMD is available to assist if you have questions related to these important developments. For more information, please contact Employment and Labor Law Attorney Russell Rendall at 216.658.2205 or firstname.lastname@example.org.