Ohio Senate Bill 268 Slashes Employees’ Civil Rights

Under the guise of harmonizing the federal and Ohio discrimination laws, the sponsors of Ohio Senate Bill 268 seek to eliminate certain longstanding civil rights of Ohio’s workers and greatly limit others. Make no mistake, Senate Bill 268 is not reform legislation. Instead, it severely limits and in some instances eliminates an Ohio employee’s ability to hold her or his employer responsible for discrimination, harassment, retaliation, broken promises the employee relied upon, certain contracts and the emotional distress that can result from these types of intentional misconduct in the workplace.

Ohio Senate Bill 268 changes the existing case law and language in the Ohio Civil Rights Act by eliminating liability of individual managers, supervisors and company officers who commit discriminatory, harassing or retaliatory acts. Under this proposed legislation, individuals could no longer be held accountable for discriminating against employees. It also prevents employees who are not covered by the Ohio Civil Rights Act from filing common law claims for employment discrimination, harassment and retaliation. Thus, employees working for an employer with fewer than four employees would no longer have the ability to file a lawsuit to hold their employer accountable for discrimination, harassment or retaliation.

Even if successful in prosecuting discrimination claims against their employers, employees/former employees would have their damages significantly capped. Under Senate Bill 268 non-economic and punitive damages combined would be subject to a cap of $50,000.00. Thus, if an employee proved that he or she endured pain and suffering, humiliation, or loss of self-esteem as a result of the employer’s discrimination, harassment or retaliation and then proved (by clear and convincing evidence) that the employer’s acts demonstrate malice, aggravated or egregious fraud, oppression or insult, the maximum amount recoverable would be $50,000.00.

Senate Bill 268 also reduces the statute of limitations for filing claims for nearly all types of discrimination under the Ohio Civil Rights Act from six years to 365 days. It similarly reduces the statute of limitations for an employee seeking to file claims for promissory estoppel, breach of implied contract or intentional infliction of emotional distress against his or her employer to one year. These are some but not all of the provisions in Senate Bill 268 that greatly narrow the civil rights of Ohio employees in the workplace. This legislation lessens accountability of managers, officers and employers for their discriminatory acts, makes discrimination more “affordable” for employers and substantially limits employees’ protections against discrimination, harassment and retaliation. It should not become law. Urge your state senator to fight against Senate Bill 268.