House Committee Passes Bill Restoring Balance to Employment Discrimination Law

House Bill 2, Ohio Chamber priority legislation fixing Ohio’s employment discrimination statutes, took a big step forward and was favorably reported out of the House Economic Development, Commerce, and Labor Committee yesterday. The bill underwent numerous changes in the months leading up to this vote that ended up moving key parties opposing the bill to neutral while still addressing the main concerns voiced by the business community.

As the Ohio Chamber testified yesterday, Ohio’s employment discrimination statutes are problematic for employers due to their drastic difference from federal law and the laws in other states in a few key ways. First, Ohio’s statute of limitation for bringing these types of claims is the longest in the country—six years. Second, employers are forced to defend claims simultaneously before the Ohio Civil Rights Commission (OCRC) and in civil court which is a waste of both employer and state resources. Lastly, the imposition of individual liability due to a Ohio Supreme Court decision from 1999 has led to technical issues in civil cases for businesses. The Ohio Chamber believes the substitute version of the bill that was moved out of committee addresses these issues while retaining robust protection from discrimination for employees and creating good public policy for the State of Ohio.

Among the key features of the legislation, House Bill 2 does the following:

  • Changes timeframe to bring employment discrimination claims from six years to two years;
  • Requires individuals to file with the OCRC prior to filing a civil action in court, also known as exhaustion of administrative remedies;
  • Prevents simultaneous claims before the OCRC and in civil court;
  • Eliminates individual supervisor liability for all employment discrimination claims except claims of retaliation or aiding and abetting discrimination;
  • Simplifies the age discrimination statutes;
  • Codifies federal case law providing an affirmative defense for employers in hostile work environment harassment claims when the employer has robust anti-harassment policies in place, trains employees on the policy, and employees fail to take advantage of the policy; and
  • Codifies Ohio case law stating that Ohio’s general “tort reform” laws apply to employment discrimination claims.

The Ohio Civil Rights Commission, which opposed the original version of HB 2,  testified as an interested party on the revised legislation and stated that the new requirement that all employment discrimination cases be first filed with them “provides an opportunity to improve Ohio public policy” and would allow them to truly track and study employment discrimination in the state for the first time. Further, it will provide all parties an opportunity to utilize the OCRC’s free voluntary mediation program to resolve disputes in a more cost effective way. According to the OCRC, in state fiscal year 2016, of the cases that went to mediation, nearly 80 percent were resolved and the average closure time was just over 33 days.

Moving this bill out of committee is a victory but there is much more left to do. We will be advocating for continued action on this important legislation to restore balance to Ohio’s employment discrimination statutes.

For an overview of the legislation, please click here.