Ohio’s New Employment Discrimination Law Brings Welcome Clarity

Although the year 2020 was difficult and exhausting for most, 2021 brings some good news for Ohio employers. On January 12, 2021, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine signed HB 352, otherwise known as the Employment Law Uniformity Act. There are several key changes that bring welcome clarity for employers.

First, the statute of limitations for workplace discrimination lawsuits was significantly reduced from six years to two. This two-year limitation period applies to both lawsuits and claims filed with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission.
Next, the new law requires that plaintiffs first file a claim with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission prior to filing suit, known as exhaustion of administrative remedies. This aligns Ohio employment discrimination law with federal employment discrimination law, where claims brought pursuant to most federal employment laws must first be brought before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The new law additionally revises the process a plaintiff must follow to bring an age discrimination lawsuit and aligns it with the process plaintiffs bringing claims for employment discrimination based on any other protected class (i.e. race, religion, gender) must follow. In short, that means first filing a claim with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission and exhausting that administrative process before filing suit.

HB 352 also states that employers who take appropriate action to prevent and promptly correct harassing behavior in the workplace may assert this as a defense in some employment discrimination suits. Such appropriate employer actions include implementing a workplace harassment policy, conducting regular anti-harassment seminars, and exercising reasonable care to prevent or promptly correct harassing behavior. This is modeled after federal law that has existed for many years.

Finally, the new legislation removes personal liability for managers and supervisors who acted within the scope of their employment and did not retaliate against the plaintiff or engage in discriminatory practices. However, the Act does not protect supervisors and managers from being found personally liable if it is determined the individual acted outside the scope of their employment, retaliated against the plaintiff, or engaged in discriminatory practices.

This synchronization of federal and state antidiscrimination laws will help reduce litigation and provide additional defenses for employers. For questions regarding HB 352’s specific application to your business, please contact a labor and employment attorney at DBL Law.