Thursday, April 1, 2021

No foolin': the most meaningful changes to Ohio's employment discrimination law take effect in two weeks

Two weeks from today, H.B. 352 takes effect and brings the most significant changes to Ohio's workplace discrimination statute since its passage decades ago. What are these changes?

  • Creates a universal two-year statute of limitations for all employment discrimination claims.
  • Requires individuals to file an administrative charge with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission as a prerequisite to filing a lawsuit.
  • Unifies the filing of age discrimination claims to the same procedures and remedies as all other protected classes.
  • Eliminates individual statutory liability for managers and supervisors.
  • Caps non-economic and punitive damages based on the size of the employer.
  • Establishes an affirmative defense to hostile workplace sexual harassment claims not alleging that did not result in an adverse, tangible employment action, when 1) the employer exercised reasonable care to prevent or promptly correct the alleged unlawful discriminatory practice or harassing behavior, and 2) the employee failed to take advantage of any preventive or corrective opportunities provided by the employer or to otherwise avoid the alleged harm. 

Importantly. because H.B. 352 makes no mention of any retroactive application, these changes almost certainly will not apply to any claims filed before April 15 (the law's effective date).

What does this lack of retroactivity mean for your business? It means that any Ohio employee who has a potential employment discrimination should file that claim in the next 14 days, if it hasn't been filed already (and my daily lawsuit reports reveal that a lot already have been). Otherwise, plaintiffs will have to file a charge of discrimination with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission instead of proceeding directly to court; will not be able to sue their managers and supervisors for discrimination, harassment, or retaliation; will subject their claims to damage caps; and will have to deal with an employer's affirmative defense to certain harassment claims. 

In other words, if I'm a plaintiffs' lawyer, I better have a really good reason why I'm waiting until April 15 (or after) to file an Ohio discrimination claim. And if I'm an employer, I better buckle up and get ready to defend a glut of lawsuits about to be filed.

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