Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Can we please fix Ohio’s age discrimination law?

It’s no secret that Ohio’s age discrimination statute is a hot mess. The statute has four different ways a plaintiff can file an age claim against an employer, each with a different statute of limitations and available remedies. What’s more, the statute requires that the plaintiff elect which one of the four specific statutory provisions the claim is asserted. Filing under one provision precludes a plaintiff from asserting a claim under any of the other three. This election can have a significant impact on the litigation, because it will dictate the remedies a plaintiff can seek.

If this scheme not complicated enough, federal law also requires that a plaintiff file an age discrimination charge with the EEOC as a prerequisite to filing a lawsuit alleging a violation of the ADEA. Because Ohio is a deferral state, any charges filed with the EEOC are automatically deemed dual-filed with the OCRC.

Not all Ohio state-law age discrimination claims, however, require exhaustion with the civil rights agency. In fact, R.C. 4112.99, which provides the most expansive remedies, has no exhaustion requirement at all. What happens, however, if a plaintiff files an age discrimination charge with the EEOC? Does that mean that the dual filing with the OCRC asks an election by the plaintiff to pursue an administrative claim (with limited remedies) instead of a civil lawsuit with more expansive remedies?

In Flint v. Mercy Health Partners of Southwest Ohio (S.D. Ohio 4/16/13), the district court concluded that filing first with the EEOC does not serve as an election of administrative remedies under Ohio’s age discrimination statutes:

This Court concludes that the Ohio Supreme Court would likely rule that filing a charge of age discrimination with the EEOC does not comprise an election of remedies…. Therefore, the Court holds that Plaintiffs’ pro se filing of an EEOC charge was not an election of remedies under the Ohio statute. This result acknowledges the complementary nature of federal and state employment discrimination procedures and disarms the “minefield” Ohio’s statutory scheme creates for the litigant wanting to pursue a remedy for age discrimination — something this Court finds particularly important when an employee is attempting to navigate that minefield without the assistance of legal counsel.

Ohio is contemplating expansive changes to its employment discrimination laws. The legislature should take the opportunity to disarm this "minefield" by creating one unified statute of limitations for all discrimination claims (I suggest one year to bring Ohio more in line with its federal counterpart), and eliminate the goofy and confusing election requirement that results from having four different types of age discrimination claims.