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Sex discrimination, also known as gender discrimination, means treating someone differently because of their gender. It has been an issue for Ohio employers ever since women started to enter the workforce en masse in the 1960s. Although sex discrimination laws were originally designed to protect women, they are written on a gender-neutral basis, meaning that either gender should be able to take advantage of the protections they offer.
Sex discrimination law may come into play if, for example:
- An employer refuses to hire females for certain positions;
- An employee is subjected to a hostile work environment due to their gender, while management turns a blind eye;
- An employee is denied the right to work with the public for being too “masculine” or “feminine” in derogation of stereotypes that are applied to that employee/s gender;
- An employee is passed over for promotion because of their gender;
- An employer offers health insurance but fails to cover contraceptives;
- A supervisor retaliates against an employee by withdrawing employment-based benefits because the employee refused their sexual advances;
- Women are subjected to interview questions such as “Do you plan to have children?”;
- One gender is paid less than the other gender despite equal qualifications;
- Crucial employment training is provided to only one gender;
- An employee reports gender discrimination and the employer retaliates against the employee by, for example, giving them undesirable job assignments or unjustified negative evaluations; or
- A “glass ceiling” prevents one gender from rising above a certain level in the company.
The foregoing list is far from exhaustive. Remember that a practice that impacts one gender more harshly than the other, despite appearing to be gender-neutral, might be considered unlawful gender discrimination.
Gender Discrimination Laws in Ohio
Employees who work in Ohio can take advantage of gender discrimination laws at both the federal and the state levels:
- The most useful federal statute is Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bans discrimination “because of sex.” Federal courts agree that this phrase prevents employers subject to Title VII from discriminating on the basis of gender (as well as sexual orientation and gender identity/expression).
- The Ohio Fair Employment Practices Law is the state law that prohibits gender discrimination by Ohio employers. It prohibits essentially the same conduct that Title VII does, with minor variations, except that it does not prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity or expression..
- Other statutes, such as the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA), provide a more limited impact on workplace gender discrimination claims.
Should You File a Claim Under Federal or Under State Law?
If your company has fewer than 4 employees, you cannot file a claim under either state or federal law. If your company has between 4 and 14 employees, you have no choice–you must file under Ohio state law. If your company has 15 or more employees you can file under federal law, under state law, or under both at the same time.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
Under federal law, an employee who seeks to take action under Title VII must first file a claim with the local office of the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC will investigate your claim and determine whether to file a lawsuit in federal court under Title VII. If it decides not to, it will send you a Notice of Right to Sue, which will give you the right to sue your employer in federal court.
The Ohio Fair Employment Practices Law
The Ohio Fair Employment Practices Law is the state law that prohibits gender discrimination by Ohio employers. To file a claim under this law, you must submit it to the Ohio Civil Rights Commission (OCRC), Equal Opportunity Division (the state version of the federal EEOC).
As with a federal claim, you must then wait for the OCRC to decide whether or not to pursue your case. If it decides not to, it will send you a Notice of Right to Sue. Only then can you pursue your claim in court on your own.
The State/Federal Work-Sharing Agreement
When you seek to file a sex discrimination claim at both the state and federal level (assuming you are eligible to do so), you can file your initial claim with either the EEOC or the OCRC, and indicate that you wish the agency to cross-file with its counterpart. Either agency will share your claim with the other, and they will cooperate in processing your claim.
If you win a claim for sex discrimination under either Ohio or federal law, you could be entitled to the below remedies. Please note that some of these remedies are alternatives to others and that statutory limitations apply to compensatory and punitive damages:
- Reinstatement, compelled hiring, or compelled promotion, depending on the nature of the discrimination that took place;
- Back pay;
- Front pay;
- Retroactive seniority and benefits;
- Compensatory damages for losses you suffered as an indirect result of the discrimination you siuffered;;
- Punitive damages (not available against government employers and only occasionally available against private employers); and
- Attorneys’ fees.
Most victims seek money damages rather than compelled reinstatement or other forms of injunctive relief.
2021 Revisions to State Employment Discrimination Law
New amendments to Ohio’s employment discrimination law went into effect in April 2021. Some of these amendments include:
- A two-year statute of limitations (which is tolled while a discrimination claim is pending with the OCRC);
- Limits on compensatory and punitive damages;
- A requirement that you file your claim with the OCRC before you take it to court;
- A requirement that makes it more difficult for a sexual harassment victim to win a claim against their employer for a “hostile work envoironment” claim, and
- Other changes.
On paper, the new revisions appear decidedly employer-friendly, which leaves many to wonder about the direction that employment discrimination law is going to take in the near future. Federal discrimination protections, by contrast, appear as robust as ever.