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Supreme Court Rules on Workers' Compensation Retaliation Notice Letter Requirements

In Lawrence v. City of Youngstown, Supreme Court Case No. 20120Ohio-4247 (September 20, 2012), the Ohio Supreme Court recently resolved a longstanding dispute among the Ohio district courts of appeals as to when an employee is required to deliver a 90-day notice of workers' compensation retaliation letter to an employer to comply with R.C. 4123.90. Prior to this decision, some courts held that the notice letter must be delivered to the employer within 90 days after the date of discharge. Other courts held that the notice letter must be delivered within 90 days after the employee receives notice of his discharge.

In this case, Mr. Lawrence claimed that he learned he was discharged six weeks after the effective date of his removal. His attorney mailed a notice of retaliation letter within 90 days after Mr. Lawrence learned of his discharge. In his letter, Mr. Lawrence's attorney notified the City of Youngstown that it had subjected his client to workers' compensation retaliation by discharging him in violation of R.C. 4123.90. Although the contents of the letter was never disputed, the City moved to dismiss Mr. Lawrence's workers' compensation retaliation complaint because it received the notice letter more than 90 days after the effective date of his discharge. Mr. Lawrence argued that he delivered the letter within 90 days after he learned he was discharged, and he, therefore, complied with the filing requirements of R.C. 4123.90.

The trial court agreed with the City and granted its motion to dismiss the complaint. The court of appeals affirmed and held that Mr. Lawrence did not deliver his 90-day notice letter within 90 days after the effective date of his discharge. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded the case to the court of appeals.

The Supreme Court held that an employee has 90 days from his date of discharge to file the notice of workers' compensation retaliation letter with the employer. However, the Court also recognized that there may be circumstances, such as the present case, where the employee does not learn of discharge within reasonable time after its effective date. The Court cautioned employers to give notice to an employee within a reasonable period of time so the employee may exercise his or her rights to deliver a 90-day notice letter to the employer. In those cases, where a court is persuaded that the employer did not provide notice of discharge within a reasonable period of time, the Court may construe the statute's 90-day notice requirement to operate within 90 days after the employee knew or should have known of his or her discharge.

Note: By setting forth an exception to the notice requirement, the Court opened the door for further litigation as to what constitutes a reasonable period of time for an employer to notify an employee of his discharge. The better case scenario is that the employer gives notice on the same effective date of the discharge to avoid litigation on whether the employee had notice within a reasonable period of time to deliver a timely notice of retaliation letter to his employer.

By: Merl H. Wayman

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