Ohio Governor DeWine recently signed H.B. 352, Employment Law Uniformity Act (the “Act”) into law. The Act significantly overhauls Ohio’s Fair Employment Practices Act under Ohio Revised Code 4112. The Act is set to take effect on April 15, 2021, 90 days after Governor DeWine signed the Act. Below is a summary of the key takeaways of the Act:
- Statute of limitations. For more than 20 years, Ohio has maintained one of the longest statute of limitations in the country for filing employment discrimination claims. The Act reduces the statute of limitation for civil workplace discrimination causes of action to two years.
- Exhaust Administrative Remedies. The Act now requires employees to exhaust their administrative remedies before filing a civil action alleging employment discrimination. This means employees must first file a Charge of Discrimination (“Charge”) with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission (OCRC) and exhaust their administrative remedies before filing suit. This requirement does not apply to an individual requesting injunctive relief from an unlawful discriminatory practice. This process will give employers and employees a chance to resolve claims before resorting to litigation. The Act also amends the statute of limitations for filing a Charge with the OCRC from 180 days to two years, creating a uniform statute of limitations for administrative charges and civil actions.
- Removes Supervisor Liability, with Exceptions. The Act also largely eliminates individual manager and supervisor liability, which was established in 1999 by the Ohio Supreme Court in Genaro v. Cent. Transport, Inc. The Act, however, does not remove individual liability in circumstances where the supervisor or manager is the employer, acted outside the scope of their employment, or retaliated against an employee for engaging in protected activity.
- Affirmative Defense. The Act establishes an affirmative defense to hostile work environment sexual harassment claims where no tangible employment action was taken if the employer: (1) had an effective harassment policy in place; (2) properly educated employees about the policy and complaint procedures; (3) exercised reasonable care to prevent or promptly correct the harassing behavior; and (4) the employee alleging the hostile work environment unreasonably failed to take advantage of any preventive or corrective opportunities provided by the employer. This legal principle, commonly referred to as the Faragher/Ellerth affirmative defense, was established by United States Supreme Court in 1998 and will now expressly apply to claims brought under Ohio Revised Code 4112.
- Age Discrimination. Under the previous law, employees had multiple avenues to file age discrimination claims. The Act now provides one avenue for age discrimination claims, which must be filed within two years.
The attorneys at Walter | Haverfield are here to help you navigate your obligations under local, state, and federal laws. If you have any questions about your obligations under the Act, feel free to contact us here.