Monday, January 28, 2008

Columbus Dispatch on military status discrimination

This morning's Columbus Dispatch reports on Ohio's ban on military status discrimination, which will go into effect on March 23. For some information on what this law protects, take a look at my January 10 post: Ohio to prohibit discrimination based on "military status". The Dispatch's article quotes me on some the new law's effects:

The courts will eventually decide how to interpret the new law, though it's not hard to guess what some interpretations might be, experts say. For example, gender-based discrimination is illegal, and courts have decided that means that sexual harassment is illegal, said Jonathan Hyman, a labor and employment lawyer with the Cleveland firm of Kohrman, Jackson & Krantz.

"It's not a stretch that harassment because of military status could be illegal," he said. In that interpretation, an employee who is anti-war could violate the law by making fun of an activated military member's service.

Even the most ardent opposition of the Iraq war would be hard pressed to be in favor of discrimination against the men and women who volunteer to serve and defend our country. Nevertheless, by including military status as a protected class in our employment discrimination laws, the claims based on political speech has the potential to be injected into private workplaces like never before. If military status is protected, then in all likelihood, harassment because of military status will be actionable. Heated workplace debates about war policy could turn into discrimination claims. When Ohio's courts are asked to interpret this statute in a harassment context (and trust me, they will be asked), I hope that they seriously consider free speech versus what is truly a hostile environment, and rule accordingly.

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