For years, Ohio had one of the most convoluted laws regarding age discrimination–providing no less than 4 different statutory paths to claiming age discrimination. In addition, Ohio permitted aggrieved employees to personally sue individual management employees for their actions because the law considered managers and supervisors to be within the definition of an “employer.” Finally, Ohio had one of the longest statutes of limitations of any state (at six years). That all changes on April 15, 2021 with the Employment Law Uniformity Act.
The changes made by the Employment Law Uniformity Act (HB 352) are as follows:
- The Act requires–rather than making it optional–employees to file a charge of discrimination with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission (OCRC) before suing under state discrimination law.
- Federal law already requires exhaustion of remedies with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), or its state equivalent, before suing in court. This Act adds an exhaustion of administrative remedies requirement to state law claims.
- Employees must obtain a “right to sue” letter from the OCRC before suing in court for discrimination or retaliation under Ohio law.
- This part of the Act creates a new R.C. 4112.051 setting forth these administrative procedures before the OCRC.
- The Act eliminates supervisor and manager personal liability for discrimination, unless the supervisor or manager acted outside the scope of his/her employment by: (a) retaliating against the employee who was opposing a discriminatory practice, (b) aiding a discriminatory practice, or (c) obstructing an investigation.
- Ohio law now codifies the Faragher-Ellerth defense to harassment/hostile work environment claims, meaning that employers are not responsible for harassment/hostile work environment claims so long as:
- The employer exercised reasonable care in preventing and/or correcting harassment (generally through a workplace harassment policy and complaint process); and
- The complaining employee unreasonably failed to take advantage of those preventive and/or corrective opportunities (usually by failing to complain internally).
- The Act shortens the statute of limitations for discrimination and retaliation claims to two years.
- Previously, Ohio had a six-year statute of limitations for employment discrimination claims, one of the longest in any state. This required employers to retain employment records for six years after an employee’s termination.
- However, this new two-year statute of limitations is tolled during the OCRC Charge process.
- Employees have two years to file a charge of discrimination–rather than 180 days.
- Ohio formally applied tort reform damages caps to employment discrimination claims.
- These limits apply only to non-economic damages.
- Economic damages are not limited.
- Punitive damages caps also apply.
- Finally, Ohio streamlined the options for pursuing age discrimination claims.
Ohio’s age discrimination statute provided for one of the most complex remedies schemes for age discrimination. There were four different statutory remedies with three paths to relief and different statutes of limitations (R.C. 4112.05, 4112.02(L), 4112.99, and 4112.14). Now, age discriminations under R.C. 4112.052 are aligned with other discrimination claims and have the same two-year statute of limitations. Age discrimination claims require exhaustion of administrative remedies with the OCRC. The Act left the door open to a narrow second option for age discrimination claims under R.C. 4112.14 where the employer fired an employee who is age 40 or older, who is otherwise qualified, without just cause and who cannot arbitrate the employment decision. Employees are limited to a claim under 4112.052 or the narrower 4112.14–not both.