On January 12, 2021, Governor DeWine signed into law House Bill 352, also known as the Employment Law Uniformity Act (the “Act”). The Act will go into effect in mid-April 2021. The Act was intended to bring clarity and uniformity to Ohio’s employment discrimination laws, and in so doing, it made numerous changes to the procedures for bringing employment discrimination cases in Ohio.
The first major change brought about by the Act is that aggrieved employees can no longer take their employment discrimination claim straight to court. Before Governor DeWine signed the Act into law, employees who felt they had been discriminated against at work could take their complaint directly to Ohio state courts. In addition, the employee had the option of also pursuing a charge of discrimination before the Ohio Civil Rights Commission (the “OCRC”). Now, the Act now requires employees to file a charge with the OCRC before going to the courts.
Under the Act, employees can only get to a courtroom if they first bring a charge with the OCRC and the OCRC either issue a right to sue letter or, fails to issue a right to sue letter within 45 days after the employee requests one. This change in Ohio law mirrors federal law, which requires employees to take their complaints first to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and obtain a right to sue letter before bringing suit in federal court.
The second major change, and the one most anticipated by employers, is an overhaul of the statutes of limitations or time in which any employee must bring a discrimination claim. Previously, employees had 180 days to bring an employment discrimination charge before the OCRC, but they had six years to file a claim of discrimination in state court. Now, however, an aggrieved employee has only two years from the date on which the discriminatory act occurred to bring a charge before the OCRC and to file in state court. However, since employees are required to go to the OCRC before filing in court, the limitations period for filing in state court will be extended or tolled for 60 days after the charge is no longer pending with the OCRC.
The third major change brought about by the Act is that employees will no longer be able to bring claims of employment discrimination against a supervisor, manager, or co-worker unless the supervisor, manager or co-worker qualifies as “the employer” under the Act. However, this change does not prevent an aggrieved employee from charging supervisors, managers, and co-workers with retaliation claims, or claims of aiding and abetting an employer’s discriminatory practice.
In addition, the Act also updates and simplifies Ohio’s age discrimination laws. Age discrimination cases must now be brought under the same mechanisms and procedures as all other employment discrimination cases and will be subject to the same two-year statute of limitations period.
While the Act brings uniformity to Ohio discrimination law by implementing a universal two-year limitations period, the message to employees is clear: don’t wait. If you feel you’ve been discriminated against at work, take action soon.