Ohio Law Prohibits Disability Discrimination in the Workplace

Doug Mann

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Table of Contents
  1. What Qualifies as a Disability Under Ohio Employment Discrimination Law?
  2. Disability Discrimination: The Broader Legal Environment
  3. Remedies
  4. The Ohio Employment Discrimination Act
  5. The Employment Law Uniformity Act (ELUA)
  6. Filing a Discrimination Claim in Ohio
  7. Filing Deadlines
  8. Local Employment Discrimination Law
  9. Contact an Employment Discrimination Lawyer

A disability doesn’t mean you have to sideline your career. If you are a software engineer who is confined to a wheelchair, for example, your employer should be willing to make your workspace wheelchair-accessible. If your employer refuses to do so, you might have a disability discrimination claim against your employer.

Employment discrimination based on disability is illegal in Ohio. Of course, in some cases, you might not be certain that your disability is the reason why you have been treated badly. If you seriously suspect disability discrimination, however, you must act quickly to protect your rights. In Ohio, the law gives you three options to fight back against disability discrimination in the workplace:

  • Negotiation;
  • File a complaint with a government agency; or
  • File a lawsuit against the employer who discriminated against you.

If your employer refuses to accommodate your disability, you can seek damages for discrimination under both Ohio law and federal law.

What Qualifies as a Disability Under Ohio Employment Discrimination Law?

The word “disability” has a lot of meanings in the dictionary. For the purpose of Ohio disability discrimination law, however, “disability” means a physical or mental impairment that substantially affects at least one life activity such as walking, talking, seeing, hearing, breathing, working, sleeping, or learning.

A person can also be treated as disabled under the law if they have a record of disability, or if they are merely regarded as disabled by others. Sexual orientation and gender identity of any type are not considered disabilities, and neither are certain addictions such as gambling, pyromania, kleptomania, or substance use disorders.  

In Ohio, both federal and state laws govern the treatment of disabled people in the workplace. Following is a listing of some of the major statutes:

All of the foregoing statutes apply in one way to another to disability discrimination within the borders of Ohio. When state law and the federal law conflict, the Supremacy Clause of the US Constitution dictates that federal law applies.

Remedies

The remedies available for disability-based employment discrimination are consistent with the remedies for employment discrimination in general (except for age discrimination):

  • Back pay and benefits;
  • “Front pay”, if it is likely to take time for you to find alternative employment;
  • Out-of-pocket expenses, including court filing fees;
  • Reasonable attorney’s fees;
  • Emotional distress; 
  • Punitive damages;
  • Compelled hiring, reinstatement or promotion;
  • Reasonable accommodation for your disability; and/or
  • Posting of public notices concerning the employer’s violation and employees’ legal rights.

Remember that not all of these remedies are available for every claim. 

The Ohio Employment Discrimination Act

The Ohio Employment Discrimination Act prohibits employment discrimination based on disability as well as many other characteristics–race, color, religion, sex, military status, national origin, age, and ancestry. Unlike federal employment discrimination law, which applies only to employers with 15 or more employees, the Ohio statute applies to employers with as few as four employees.

Acts or omissions of prohibited employment discrimination include:

  • Refusal to hire;
  • Termination without just cause;
  • Denial of training opportunities; 
  • Denial of any employment-related benefit;
  • Attempting to obtain information about a job applicant’s disability; 
  • Creating or retaining records of someone’s disability for employment purposes;
  • Creating or maintaining a hostile work environment for a disabled person;
  • Using a job application form that includes questions about or references to a disability; and
  •  Publishing a recruitment ad that includes a preference or prohibition based on disability.

These prohibitions are not absolute. An employer may discriminate in an otherwise prohibited manner if the basis of the discrimination is a bona fide occupational qualification (BFOQ) qualification that is reasonably necessary to the normal operation of the employer’s particular enterprise. A church, for example, may practice religious discrimination when hiring a pastor.

The Employment Law Uniformity Act (ELUA)

The Employment Law Uniformity Act (ELUA) of 2021 is an amendment to the Ohio Employment Discrimination Act. Some of its most important features include:

  • Exhaustion of administrative remedies: A requirement to file the charge with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission (OCRC) before filing a lawsuit in civil court. You must exhaust all administrative remedies before proceeding to court. 
  • New statute of limitations period: The deadline for filing a civil rights lawsuit is two years after the discrimination that you are complaining of. This two-year countdown is suspended as long as your claim is pending with the OCRC. The previous imitations period was six years.
  • Damages caps: The law limits non-economic damages to $250,000 or triple the amount of economic damages up to $350,000, whichever is greater. The law also limits punitive damage to twice the amount of available compensatory damages
  • Limits on the liability of managers and supervisors: An employee cannot sue managers and supervisors for damages in their personal capacity (out of their own bank accounts). Two exceptions exist, however–(i) the defendant is a sole proprietor employer and (ii) the defendant acted outside the scope of their employment.
  • “Good faith” defense against hostile work environment claims: An employer can now plead a “reasonable care” defense to hostile work environment claims.

The foregoing is only a partial list of the amendments contained in ELUA.  

Filing a Discrimination Claim in Ohio

In Ohio, you can file a disability discrimination claim with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission, or with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. These two entities have a work-sharing agreement whereby they cooperate with each other to process discrimination claims.  As long as you so indicate in your claim, the agency you file the complaint with will cross-file it with the other agency.

Filing Deadlines

The deadline for filing an administrative complaint (required before you can file a civil lawsuit) is:

  • 180 days after the discriminatory conduct if you file with the OCRC (or cross-file with the EEOC); and
  • 300 days after the discriminatory conduct if you file with the EEOC (or cross-file with the OCRC).

Local Employment Discrimination Law

Some counties and municipalities offer their own legal protection against disability-based employment discrimination. Cuyahoga County (where Cleveland is located), for example, maintains a Human Rights Commission that protects against disability-based employment administration.

Contact an Employment Discrimination Lawyer

Ohio law related to disability-based employment discrimination is complex and highly subject to interpretation. Retaining an experienced Ohio employment discrimination attorney is probably the best way to maximize the chances that an Ohio court will see your case the same way you do. Reach out today for a free consultation.

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