Finally some good news for Ohio employers: Ohio Employment Law Uniformity Act

Finally some good news for Ohio employers: Ohio Employment Law Uniformity Act

On January 12, Governor Mike DeWine signed into law the Ohio Employment Law Uniformity Act, HB 352 (Uniformity Act). This was good news for employers as the new law simplifies and clarifies Ohio’s civil rights anti-discrimination laws by:

  • Shortening the statute of limitations from six years to two years for workplace discrimination claims
  • Requiring exhaustion of administrative remedies prior to bringing a lawsuit
  • Excluding potential liability for supervisors, but allowing suits against supervisors who acted outside their scope of employment to discriminate or retaliate   
  • Prescribes for employers, an affirmative defense to vicarious liability resulting from alleged sexual harassment of an employee by the employee’s supervisor
  • Simplifying age discrimination law by reducing the number of such claims available under the Ohio Civil Rights Law (formerly there were three types of claims with separate remedies and statues of limitations, now there is only one)
  • Preventing the simultaneous filing of administrative and civil claims

Individual Liability
Previously, under Ohio law, managers could be held individually liable for employment discrimination. Now, under the Uniformity Act, as under federal law, a manager cannot be held personally liable if the manager is acting within the scope of employment. If the individual was not acting within the scope of employment, retaliated against the plaintiff or engaged in discriminatory practices, then the manager may still be held liable under the Act. 

Affirmative Defense
The Uniformity Law codifies what is commonly referred as the “Faragher/Ellerth affirmative defense.” This provides employers with a defense against co-worker harassment claims where the employer has a policy allowing employees to report harassment and the employee who is alleging harassment failed to make such a report. The Uniformity Law states that an employer may raise this affirmative defense in hostile work environment claims if it can prove the following elements:

  • That the employer had an effective harassment policy
  • That the employer properly educated employees about the policy and complaint procedures
  • That the employer exercised reasonable care to prevent or promptly correct the harassing behavior
  • That the complainant failed to take advantage of any preventative or corrective opportunities

Statute of Limitations
Significantly, the Uniformity Law amends the current limitations periods to a uniform two-year period for both administrative and civil actions. This brings down the time period within which an employee can bring a discrimination claim from the previous period of six years - which was a nation-wide high. 

Failure to Exhaust
Prior to the new law, discrimination or retaliation claims could be filed in state court without filing an administrative charge with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission (OCRC).  In addition, individuals could simultaneously file a charge of discrimination with the OCRC and a civil lawsuit. This left employers open to defending the same claims on two fronts. 

Under the Uniformity Law, individuals must first file a timely administrative charge with the OCRC and then receive a right to sue letter from the agency or have waited for a period of more than 45 days to have passed with no right to sue letter having been issued. The statute of limitations is tolled, while the charge is being processed administratively. 

The bill is effective immediately. The Uniformity Act is certainly a welcome change to Ohio’s employment law landscape as it enacts much needed measures to ensure clarity and certainty when it comes to employment discrimination claims. Please feel free to contact any member of the McDonald Hopkins Labor and Employment Team with any questions that you may have regarding this new law. 

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