Ohio employment discrimination claims filed on or after April 15, 2021, will be subject to certain prerequisites under the newly enacted Employment Law Uniformity Act (ELUA).
The ELUA updates the state’s antidiscrimination statute (Ohio Revised Code § 4112), which has been in effect since 2001. The law’s prohibition against employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, military status, national origin, disability, age, or ancestry remains the same. Changing, though, are the statutorily required prerequisites to filing a civil suit and the time within which a claimant may do so.
The changes represent further efforts to ensure federal and Ohio laws are more in line in dealing with employment discrimination claims.
The changes under the ELUA for employers with at least four employees include:
- Much like federal discrimination lawsuits, which require that a plaintiff first file a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Ohio employees must file a charge with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission (OCRC) before filing a lawsuit asserting state law claims.
- The ELUA shortens the statute of limitations for employment discrimination lawsuits from six years to two years. The new two-year statute of limitations is tolled while a charge is pending before the OCRC. Claimants have two years to file an OCRC charge.
- The ELUA codifies an affirmative defense to hostile work environment harassment claims created by federal case law. Employers may defeat a claim that an employee’s supervisor created a hostile work environment by proving: (1) the employer exercised reasonable care in preventing or promptly correcting harassment in the workplace; and (2) the employee unreasonably failed to invoke the employer’s complaint procedures or other preventive or corrective opportunities.
- The ELUA limits personal liability for managers and supervisors.
- Finally, the ELUA greatly simplifies Ohio’s age discrimination framework, aligning the process for filing age discrimination claims in Ohio with other forms of discrimination. While the old framework permitted employees multiple avenues to court, each with its own statute of limitations and remedies, the ELUA subjects all age discrimination lawsuits to a two-year statute of limitations and administrative exhaustion requirements.
The ELUA provides advantages to employers that prior law did not:
- As its name implies, the ELUA makes the procedures for various employment discrimination claims more uniform. This makes litigating an alleged discrimination claim more predictable.
- The shorter statute of limitations may reduce an employer’s burden and costs associated with retaining employee records.
- Limited liability for individual supervisors and managers may mean simplified litigation.
- The affirmative defense provides employers with steps to take to comply with Ohio employment discrimination law and potentially avoid hostile work environment liability.
Employers should therefore:
- Review their policies against discrimination, harassment, and retaliation;
- Make sure the policies are available to all employees and employees know where to find them;
- Ensure proper procedures are in place to receive and respond to concerns;
- Train all employees, especially managers and leadership, on these policies and available avenues to raise concerns; and
- Train leadership and human resources to receive and respond to complaints, including proper investigation procedures and documentation practices.