Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Will the Ohio Supreme Court eliminate manager and supervisor liability for discrimination?

Ohio’s discrimination is unique in that it allows for the imposition of individual liability against managers and supervisors for their personal acts of discrimination. The case, Genaro v. Central Transport (1999), is the bane of defense lawyers and employers alike. Aside from adding a complicating element to cases by including employees in the matrix of sued parties, it also permits plaintiffs lawfully to add a non-diverse parties and keep cases from being removed to federal court.

There is hope, however, that Genaro may go the way of the dodo. Currently pending before the Ohio Supreme Court is Hauser v. City of Dayton. The specific question presented by this sex discrimination case is whether, under Genaro, Ohio’s employment discrimination statute imposes civil liability upon a manager or supervisor of a political subdivision, or whether such individual enjoys immunity as an agent of such subdivision. If the Supreme Court holds that Revised Code Ch. 4112 specifically imposes liability upon an individual manager or supervisor, then immunity cannot hold. Thus, the Court will have to decide whether Genaro is a valid interpretation of the definition of “employer” under R.C. 4112.01(A)(2).

The oral argument in Hauser offered few hints on how the Court might rule. For companies that have operations in Ohio, Hauser is the most important decision currently pending before the Ohio Supreme Court. To decide this issue of political subdivision immunity, the Court will necessarily have to pass judgment on the continued validity of Genaro and its imposition of individual liability. A ruling against the employee in this case would be a huge win for employers. The elimination of Genero would bring not only bring Ohio in line with federal law, but also with the overwhelming majority of states. It would bring a halt to the gamesmanship of adding individual defendants to lawsuits to keep claims away from federal court. My fingers are crossed that the Court does right by employers in this case. When the Court issues its decision, I’ll report back.