Thursday, September 17, 2009

Ohio House passes bill banning sexual orientation discrimination; fight moves to Senate

In yesterday's Columbus Dispatch, Jim Siegel reports that the Ohio House passed a bill that would prohibit employment discrimination based on sexual orientation by a vote of 53-39. If enacted, Ohio would join 20 other states with similar prohibitions. 17 Ohio cities, including Cleveland, already have similar laws.

The legislation would add sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of protected classes against whom employers cannot discriminate. The bill defines sexual orientation as “actual or perceived, heterosexuality, homosexuality, or bisexuality.” It defines gender identity as “gender-related identity, appearance, or mannerisms or other gender-related characteristics of an individual, with or without regard to the individual's designated sex at birth.” Other key provisions include:

  • A limitation to employers with 15 or more employees. All other forms of discrimination apply to employers with 4 or more employees.
  • A carve out for religious groups.
  • Permission for employers to deny access to shared shower or dressing facilities in which being seen unclothed is unavoidable, provided that the employer provides reasonable access to adequate facilities that are not inconsistent with an employee’s gender identity.
  • No requirement that employers construct new or additional facilities to accommodate employees’ sexual orientation or gender identity.
  • No affirmative action requirements.
  • Employers can enforce otherwise legal dress codes and grooming standards, provided that the employer permits employees who have undergone or are undergoing gender transition to adhere to the same dress code or grooming standards as their new gender.

The bill now moves on to the Ohio Senate, where its Republican majority promises a fight. According to Senate President Bill Harris, “I talk to business people all the time, and they’re saying it’s not an issue.” So let me get this straight. It’s acceptable to oppose this bill because businesses are self-reporting that they are not discriminating. Isn’t that akin to asking a plantation owner in 1863 if he wants to abolish slavery?

If we want to be a state that is attractive to progressive businesses, we need to pass progressive legislation. Let’s hope the Senate gets its act together and sends this bill to Governor Strickland for his signature.

Presented by Kohrman Jackson & Krantz, with offices in Cleveland and Columbus.

For more information, contact Jon Hyman, a partner in our Labor & Employment group, at (216) 736-7226 or