On January 12, 2021, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine signed H.B. 352, which will go into effect on April 15, 2021. This new legislation, otherwise known as the Employment Law Uniformity Act (ELUA), brings significant reforms to Ohio’s employment discrimination statute, R.C. Chapter 4112. This new legislation simplifies Ohio’s former employment discrimination statute and, in many ways, mirrors existing federal employment discrimination statutes.
Ohio’s Former Employment Discrimination Statute
The nature of Ohio’s former employment discrimination statute placed employers at a competitive disadvantage compared to employers in other states. Among other infirmities, the prior law:
- Had a six-year statute of limitations on civil actions for employment discrimination, which was the longest statute of limitations period in the country;
- Subjected individual managers and supervisors, in addition to the employer, to personal liability for discrimination;
- Provided three different routes for filing employment discrimination claims, each containing different remedies and procedural requirements;
- Lacked any exhaustion of administrative remedies prerequisite before an employee could file suit; and
- Provided no affirmative defense for hostile work environment claims.
The Employment Law Uniformity Act
The new legislation revises a number of former deficiencies in Ohio’s employment discrimination law. ELUA’s major reforms include:
Shortened Statute of Limitations: The new legislation creates a two-year statute of limitations for employees to bring employment discrimination claims. This two-year statute of limitations period applies to both civil and administrative actions and, therefore, creates uniformity and clarity.
Elimination of Supervisor and Manager Liability: The ELUA removes personal liability for individual supervisors and managers, which ensures that individuals in management positions can exercise appropriate judgment without fear of being sued. However, to balance the rights of employees, the new law does not protect supervisors or managers who have acted outside the scope of their employment, retaliated against an employee in violation of R.C. 4112.02(I), or engaged in conduct to aid, abet, incite, compel, or coerce a discriminatory practice in violation of R.C. 4112.02(J).
Greater Clarity for Age Discrimination Claims: The new law simplifies age discrimination claims by providing only a single cause of action that is subject to the same statute of limitations and exhaustion of administrative remedies requirement as all other discrimination claims.
Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies Requirement: Unlike the former statute, the ELUA requires plaintiffs to first exhaust their administrative remedies by filing a discrimination charge with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission before filing suit. Sixty days after filing a charge, the complainant may request a right to sue notice from the Commission. Upon receipt of the right to sue notice, or once 45 days have elapsed since requesting the notice but not receiving it, the complainant may bring a lawsuit.
Affirmative Defense to Hostile Work Environment Claims: The ELUA codifies an affirmative defense that employers can raise in hostile work environment claims. The affirmative defense, which parallels the Faragher/Ellerth affirmative defense under federal law, protects employers from liability if the employer can show (1) that it exercised reasonable care to prevent or promptly correct harassing behavior or an unlawful discriminatory practice, and (2) that the employee failed to take advantage of any preventative or corrective opportunities provided by the employer.
Damage Limitations for Employment Discrimination Claims: The new legislation categorizes employment discrimination lawsuits as a “tort action”, thereby subjecting such claims to compensatory and punitive damage limitations under Ohio’s Tort Reform Act.
The ELUA brings a welcomed change to Ohio’s employment discrimination law. The new legislation will provides greater uniformity and predictability for Ohio employers, while still balancing and preserving the critical rights of employees.