On Jan. 12, 2021, Gov. Mike DeWine signed the Employment Law Uniformity Act (H.B. 352) into law. This act will significantly modify several aspects of Ohio’s workplace anti-discrimination laws and will bring Ohio law into conformity with federal law. The law will take effect in April 15, 2021.
New process for filing a civil employment discrimination suit
First, the law will significantly change the process for filing a civil employment discrimination suit. Currently under Ohio law, filing a charge with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission (OCRC) is not required before filing a civil suit. A plaintiff can file directly in court without first exhausting administrative remedies.
Once the Employment Law Uniformity Act takes effect, a plaintiff will be required to first exhaust his or her claims with the OCRC and receive a right-to-sue notice from the OCRC before filing a civil suit. However, a plaintiff need not file a charge with the OCRC if he or she seeks only injunctive relief or has received a right-to-sue notice from the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
Lastly, the new law will change Ohio’s six-year statute of limitations for filing a civil lawsuit alleging employment discrimination to two years. The two-year statute of limitations is tolled while a charge is being investigated by the OCRC, however. In addition, the statute of limitations to file a charge with the OCRC will change from 180 days to two years under the new law.
Elimination of individual supervisor liability
Under current law, individual supervisors can be liable for employment discrimination claims. The new law will bring Ohio law into conformity with federal law by eliminating individual supervisor liability for workplace discrimination claims except in cases where the individual supervisor committing a violation is also the employer.
New process for filing an age discrimination suit
Under current Ohio law, age discrimination claims can be pursued under three different statutory avenues. The Employment Law Uniformity Act will eliminate this confusing system and bring age discrimination claims into line with other employment discrimination claims. Age discrimination claims will be subject to the same two-year statute of limitations and exhaustion of administrative remedies requirements as outlined above with respect to other employment discrimination claims.
Affirmative defense to hostile work environment claims
Finally, the new law codifies the Faragher/Ellerth affirmative defense to hostile work environment sexual harassment claims. This affirmative defense applies where the hostile work environment was created by the employee’s supervisor and the employer can show that:
- It exercised reasonable care to prevent or correct sexually harassing behavior; and
- The employee alleging hostile work environment unreasonably failed to take advantage of preventive or corrective opportunities provided by the employer.
Note that this affirmative defense does not apply where a supervisor’s sexual harassment caused a tangible employment action against the employee, such as failure to hire, termination of employment, failure to promote or reassignment with a significant change in duties.
This is a win for employers in Ohio. Ohio employers have long had to cope with a daunting six-year statute of limitations, supervisor liability and other employee-friendly aspects of Ohio’s anti-discrimination laws. The Employment Law Uniformity Act provides some much-needed relief to employers and provides for more uniform treatment of all types of employment discrimination under Ohio law.