Ohio’s Reformation of Employment Discrimination Law through the new Employment Law Uniformity Act
On January 12, 2021 Governor DeWine signed the Employment Law Uniformity Act (“ELUA”) into law. ELUA reforms Ohio’s employment discrimination statute and will bring much-needed clarity to Ohio employers. EULA becomes effective 90 days after Governor DeWine’s signature and applies to all future discrimination claims filed on or after its effective date. The ELUA makes significant changes to the Ohio Civil Rights Law concerning the statute of limitations, administrative exhaustion of discrimination charges, personal liability for managers, codification of an affirmative defense to hostile work environment claims, and clarification of remedies for age discrimination. The key changes include:
New Administrative Requirements Prior to Filing a Civil Lawsuit
- The ELUA mirrors federal law in now requiring employees to file charges and exhaust administrative remedies with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission (“OCRC”) before commencing a lawsuit in court. Under the ELUA, an individual cannot file a civil action unless a timely charge with the OCRC has been filed and either the OCRC has issued a right to sue notice or more than 45 days have passed and has not issued a right to sue notice. The statute of limitations to file the civil claim is tolled while the OCRC investigates the charge. This new process will allow the OCRC to consolidate charges of the same alleged violation, relieving employers from defending the same claims in multiple venues.
Statute of Limitations
- Implementing a uniform two-year statute of limitations for filing employment discrimination claims with the OCRC and/or in court. The ELUA reduces the current six-year statute of limitations for employment discrimination claims to two years. In addition to amending the statute of limitation for civil actions, the ELUA extends the statute of limitation to file a charge of discrimination with the OCRC from 180 days to two years.
- The ELUA simplifies the process and remedies available for age discrimination actions by providing a single cause of action and removing two alternate methods for filing age discrimination claims. Accordingly, the ELUA aligns the process for filing age discrimination claims in Ohio to the procedure for bringing all other discrimination claims, all subject to the new two-year statute of limitations.
Elimination of Supervisor Personal Liability
- The ELUA eliminates personal liability for employment discrimination claims for managers and supervisors. Supervisors, managers, and employees have greater protection from discrimination liability under the ELUA. Generally, members of management can now exercise reasonable business judgment regarding employee discipline and termination without the threat of being sued. However, if supervisors or managers are the employer, retaliated against the employee, or otherwise engaged in discriminatory practice, they may still face personal liability.
- The ELUA now provides an affirmative defense for employers who have appropriate anti-harassment policies and procedures in place. Accordingly, an employer may now raise this affirmative defense against hostile work environment sexual harassment claims that do not result in an adverse “tangible employment action” as defined by the statute. The defense is available to employers who can show: (1) the employer exercised reasonable care to prevent or promptly correct any sexually harassing behavior, and (2) the claimant unreasonably failed to take advantage of any preventative or corrective opportunities provided by the employer or to otherwise avoid harm. The new law encourages employers to enforce strong anti-discrimination policies and ensure that employees are aware of and understand such policies.
Contact our office today to discuss a review of your company’s anti-discrimination policies and procedures to ensure that your business can avail itself of the new protection offered by the ELUA.