Basic Discrimination Law for Ohio Employees

Call me at 216-522-0011 to discuss your discrimination case. I will analyze your case for a legal remedy. For now, here’s some information about the employment discrimination laws.

Employment Discrimination Based on Protected Status

Employment discrimination laws for Ohio employees are in federal and state laws. There are three primary federal statutes. First, Title VII outlaws discrimination because of race, color, religion, sex, and national origin discrimination. Second, Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) bans disability discrimination. Third, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”) covers age discrimination. In addition, the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA) protects military personnel called to active duty. Likewise, the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (“GINA”) bars employment discrimination because of genetic information. Moreover, the Equal Pay Act requires equal pay for women. Also, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act is an amendment to Title VII. It prohibits discrimination because of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions. Here, I will focus on Title VII.

Ohio Revised Code Chapter 4112 contains the Ohio employment discrimination laws. It covers the same characteristics as the four main federal statutes. It  adds ancestry as a protected category.

The employment laws protect against employment actions such as terminations, demotions and failures to hire. They also prohibit employers from retaliating against employees due to opposition to discriminatory treatment, including the filing of a claim.

Proving Employment Discrimination

As with most every employment law claim, proving the reason for the employer’s decision is key. It requires proof of what was going on inside the employer’s head – not an easy task.

The Direct Method of Proof

Obviously, an employer can be held liable for discrimination if they say the reason for termination was race, age, disability, etc. Or, the employee’s supervisor might make discriminatory comments relating to the employee. Statements like that demonstrate what the employer was thinking. Such statements are direct evidence of discrimination. Failing to provide a protected employee a reasonable accommodation is considered direct evidence (see this article). Direct evidence is one way to prove discrimination. However, direct evidence cases are rare because employers are usually not dumb enough to say things like that.

The Indirect Method of Proof

Courts have developed another way to prove discrimination. The indirect method has three steps. The first step has four parts: (1) the employee must be a member of one of the protected groups; (2) the employee was qualified for the job; (3) the employee took adverse action against the employee (e.g., termination, demotion, cut in pay); and (4) the employer replaced the employee with, or treated the employee less favorably than, someone outside the protected group. The first and third steps are usually not disputed. Similarly, the second step is sometimes disputed. Step four is usually the most contested. Note that step four goes to the heart of what discrimination means — being treated differently than someone who is mostly the same except for their race, color, religion, sex, national origin, health, or age.

Pretext

That’s the first part of the indirect method. The employer must then state a legitimate reason for its decision. They always do. The employee must then present evidence of “pretext.” This means evidence that the employer’s reason might not be the real one. We use different types of evidence for this purpose. For example, the employer might have given inconsistent reasons. Maybe it treated comparable employees better. Or, the employer didn’t follow its own policies. Alternatively, maybe it gave an unrealistic performance goal. Or, the employer failed to document its reason. Perhaps it trumped up the charges or did a shoddy investigation. Therefore, we lawyers will try to use any evidence that calls into question the employer’s decision. Ultimately, the case can go to trial with such evidence.

The Causation Standard

The employee must still convince the jury discrimination was a motivating factor – that it was “a” reason for the employer’s decision. With federal claims under Title VII (as amended in 1991), the employer may prove it would have taken the same action regardless. If so, the employee cannot recover money damages for lost income or emotional distress. For federal age discrimination claims under the ADEA, the employee must prove that age was “the” reason for the employer’s decision. It is not enough that age was one of several reasons. That’s a tough standard to meet.

Statutes of Limitation and Where to Obtain Relief

Setting aside age claims for the moment, discrimination claims under Ohio law can be brought within six years after the discriminatory event. Federal claims under Title VII (race, color, religion, sex and national origin), the ADA (disability) and the ADEA (age) cannot go to court without first filing a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or the Ohio Civil Rights Commission (OCRC). Ohio employees have 180 days to file a charge with the OCRC, and 300 days to file with the EEOC. The OCRC can adjudicate claims. The EEOC cannot.

Ohio age discrimination statutes are a real mess. They provide for several conflicting remedies. You can file an age discrimination charge with the OCRC within six months after the discriminatory event. Persons over 40 denied a job or discharged without just cause have six years to file a lawsuit for reinstatement, lost wages and attorney’s fees. Or, you can sue in court for a full range of damages (including emotional distress and punitive damages), but must do so within one hundred eighty days. Finally, you can file a lawsuit for any form of discrimination under a catch-all statute.  Lawyers use the catch-all statute with the other court claims.

Filing an age discrimination charge with the OCRC means an employee cannot later bring an Ohio civil suit for age discrimination. Filing a claim with the EEOC can count as seeking relief from the OCRC. Federal courts tend to be more lenient when interpreting the Ohio election of remedies system.

Harassment Claims

Courts use a different method of analysis for harassment claims. Harassment claims have four elements. First, the employee considered the harassment unwelcome. Second, the protected status (e.g., race, religion, etc.) motivated the harassment. Third, the harassing conduct was bad enough to affect the plaintiff’s job. See “The Objective Test for Severe or Pervasive Sex Harassment,” “Workplace Harassment – Severe OR Pervasive, Not Both.” The fourth element has two parts — a supervisor committed the harassment or the employer knew or should have known of the harassment and failed to take prompt and appropriate action.

Consult for Free with David W. Neel, Attorney at Law

Discrimination laws protect everyone
Discrimination laws protect all of us

 

Did I mention I provide free consultations over the phone? The laws prohibiting employment discrimination are tricky. Everyone’s situation or potential case is different. Call me at 216-522-0011. You will talk with me. If I’m not available leave a message. I will call you back. We’ll talk for 15-30 minutes depending on your case. I will tell you if I think you have a case and whether I can help you. Sound good? So, pick up the phone and call me. I’m here to help you.


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