Last week I was asked if managers and supervisors have any liability for their own acts of discrimination or other unlawful activities. Like most things in the law, the answer is, “It depends” on the law about which you are concerned.
If it’s wage and hour advice, for example, then the Fair Labor Standards Act provides for individual liability for those who exercise significant control over the company’s operations. Some courts apply the same rationale to violations of the FMLA, although individual liability under that statute is far from a settled issue. The 3rd, 5th, and 8th Circuits have all found that there can be individual liability for FMLA violations, while the 6th (which covers Ohio) and 11th Circuits have gone the other way.
There are also potential common law claims under states law (e.g., intentional infliction of emotional distress) that, while hard to establish, create yet another avenue of individual liability.
If it’s discrimination liability, there is no issue for the individuals under since Title VII and the other federal employment discrimination laws, none of which provide for any individual liability.
Here is the part, however, to which Ohio employers must pay attention. Under Ohio’s employment discrimination statute, managers and supervisors can be held individually liable for their own acts of discrimination. So, an employee can not only sue your company, but also the individual who made the termination decision, the HR manager who dropped the harassment-investigation ball, or the supervisor who failed to engage the disabled employee in the interactive process.
I’ve long argued that Ohio needs to change its employment discrimination statute to eliminate individual liability and bring our state law in line which its federal counterpart and the laws of nearly every other state. Yet, as long as this is the law of our state, these liabilities need to be central part of your company’s EEO and anti-harassment training, so that your managers and supervisors understand their own personal risk if they don’t understand their EEO obligations.