On Jan. 12, 2021, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine signed House Bill 352, the Employment Law Uniformity Act, into law. This Bill, sponsored by Republican State Representative Jon Cross, is a long-awaited and employer-friendly change, which brings Ohio’s employment discrimination laws more in line with federal law and the various laws of other states.
Summary of HB 352’s Changes to Ohio law
- Employees Must Exhaust Administrative Remedies Before Filing a Lawsuit. Employees must first file a charge with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission (OCRC) prior filing an employment discrimination lawsuit. Previously, employees were allowed to bring a lawsuit without first filing with an administrative agency, forcing employers to defend cases in multiple forums at once and allowing an employee to jump immediately into court. Now, before an employee may file a lawsuit, one of the following must occur: (i) the employee has received a notice of right to sue from the OCRC, (ii) the employee has requested a notice of right to sue and the OCRC has failed to issue the same within 45 days, or (iii) the OCRC determines there is probable cause that an unlawful discriminatory practice has occurred and the employee elects to file suit. This is very similar to federal law.
- The Statute of Limitations for Bringing Employment Discrimination Lawsuits is Shortened. Employees must now bring employment discrimination lawsuits in state court within two (2) years, rather than the previous six (6) years. Notably, this statute of limitations is tolled while any related charge of discrimination is being investigated by the OCRC.
- Personal Liability for Supervisors and Managers is Eliminated (With Some Exceptions). Supervisors and managers can no longer be held personally liable for violations of employment discrimination laws, superseding the Ohio Supreme Court’s decision in Genaro v. Cent. Transp., Inc., 84 Ohio St.3d 293 (1999). This is more in line with the federal law. However, there are a few exceptions to this new rule, including when a supervisor or manager acts outside the scope of his/her employment, retaliates against an employee or personally engages in or aids a discriminatory practice.
- Statutory Defense for Employers. Employers now have a statutory affirmative defense available to them to defend hostile work environment harassment claims. Employers would not be responsible for such claims if: (i) the employer has anti-discrimination policies, (ii) the employer properly trained employees on appropriate workplace behavior and complaint procedures, (iii) the employer exercised reasonable care in preventing or correcting harassment in the workplace and (iv) the employee failed to invoke the employer’s complaint procedures (or other preventative or corrective procedures). This essentially codifies the parameters of the Faragher-Ellerth defense into Ohio law.
- Overhaul of Age Discrimination Claims. The new Act eliminates two of the three previous avenues for bringing age discrimination lawsuits. Previously, Ohio had a unique set of age discrimination laws, each with a different statute of limitations. Now, age discrimination claims are treated like other protected classes, subject to the two-year statute of limitations and requiring the exhaustion of administrative remedies.
- Effective Date. The Employment Law Uniformity Act will take effect April 12, 2021. It will apply to those cases filed as of that date.
The Employment Law Uniformity Act is a complete change to the landscape of Ohio employment law. It brings much needed clarity to Ohio’s employment discrimination laws and an overall simplification to the filing of discrimination claims in Ohio. Most importantly, this is a largely employer-friend change to the law, limiting an employee’s ability to file a lawsuit in state court, codifying certain affirmative defenses available to the employer and reducing the look-back period for which the employer needs to be concerned about future liability.
Should you have any questions on the Employment Law Uniformity Act or if you would like more information on how to navigate these new laws, please contact Rob Gilmore (firstname.lastname@example.org / 216.736.7240), Kirsten Mooney (email@example.com / 216.736.7239) or any of our Labor & Employment professionals.
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