Ohio has Revised its Cumbersome and Confusing Antidiscrimination Laws

For decades, Ohio’s employment discrimination law (codified as Ohio Revised Code Section 4112) has been a jumbled mess. Employees had six years to file most discrimination lawsuits, one of the longest limitation periods in the country. The law had several different provisions to sue for age discrimination, and depending on which one an employee used, they had different limitations periods and remedies. Employees could file a claim directly in court instead of first filing an administrative charge of discrimination with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission. Perhaps most troubling to many managers, employees could sue their supervisors individually in addition to suing their employers.

After more than 20 years of trying, businesses have finally won their fight to reform this system, as Governor Mike DeWine recently signed into law the Employment Law Uniformity Act, which brings Ohio’s employment discrimination law more in line with federal law and simplifies the complicated and confusing system. The Act goes into effect on April 12, 2021. The highlights of the new law include the following:

  • Shorter limitations period: Employees will have two years to pursue legal action instead of six. This is valuable to employers because they will not need to maintain six years’ worth of records going forward. Moreover, the chances that key witnesses will have moved on and be unavailable are far lower with a two-year statute of limitations than with a six-year limitation period.
  • No more individual liability: While an employee may still file an action against their employer, they will no longer be able to file an action against their supervisor.
  • Administrative exhaustion: Employees will no longer be able to file a lawsuit directly in Ohio’s courts. Instead, they will be required to file an administrative charge of discrimination at the Ohio Civil Rights Commission and be granted the right to sue. Administrative charges are far less costly and time consuming than lawsuits, and administrative agencies such as the Ohio Civil Rights Commission serve as gatekeepers to keep most frivolous discrimination claims from reaching the court system.
  • Additional defense for sexual harassment claims: Under federal law, employers are allowed to defend themselves in sexual harassment cases by establishing that they had effective policies in place to prevent and correct harassment, but the employee did not take advantage of them. While this defense has not applied under Ohio state law before, it will now apply, allowing employers to defend themselves when an employee did not complain about harassment to management and did not give their employer an opportunity to put an end to alleged misconduct.

These changes and others contained in the Act bring clarity and consistency to Ohio’s antidiscrimination laws and will likely save employers money, time, and confusion.

This article should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion on any specific facts or circumstances. The contents are intended for general informational purposes only, and you are urged to consult your own lawyer on any specific legal questions you may have concerning your situation.

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