Ohio Governor Signs New Law Streamlining Employment Discrimination Claims

Gallagher Sharp LLP By Gallagher Sharp LLP

On Wednesday January 13, 2021, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine signed House Bill 352, the Employment Law Uniformity Act, enacting major changes in employment discrimination lawsuits in the state. This new law makes the treatment of Ohio claims more consistent with federal discrimination claims.

House Bill 352Under House Bill 352, the statue of limitations for filing state employment discrimination suits has been changed from six years to two years. Currently, Ohio’s six-year statute of limitation period, set by Ohio Supreme Court case Cosgrove v. Williamsburg of Cincinnati Management Company, Inc., 70 Ohio St.3d 281 (1994), is the nation’s longest. Under the new law, employees will have two years to file such suits in Ohio.

Currently, Ohio law does not require employees to exhaust administrative remedies before filing an employment discrimination suit.  Under this new law, employees will be required to file a charge with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission before they can file a workplace discrimination lawsuit.

The Employment Law Uniformity Act, like federal law, will also exclude managers, supervisors, and employees from personal liability for employment discrimination, unless they are personally accused of retaliating or obstructing a person from complying with civil rights law.

The law also provides an affirmative defense for employers in hostile work environment claims consistent with federal law.  The defense, often referred to as “Faragher/Ellerth affirmative defense” allows employers to avoid liability in sexual harassment lawsuits if they can show they took reasonable steps to prevent or correct sexually harassing behavior or if the employee failed to take advantage of any preventive or corrective opportunities provided by the employer. To raise this affirmative defense, employers must prove that they had: (1) an effective harassment policy; (2) properly educated employees about the policy and complaint procedures; (3) exercised reasonable care to prevent or promptly correct harassing behavior; (4) the complainant failed to take advantage of any preventative or corrective opportunities.

The law will go into effect in 90 days. If you have any questions about this new law, ensuring you have an effective harassment policy, training your employees, or any other employment law-related question, do not hesitate to contact us.