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OELA Opposes Ohio Chamber Legislation Gutting Civil Rights Protections

The Ohio Chamber of Commerce is once again planning to introduce legislation that would gut Ohio’s anti-discrimination laws and make it one of the least protective states in the Union. The Chamber appears to be intent on effectively repealing Ohio’s more than half a century commitment to ending workplace discrimination by barring discrimination suits against individual racists, harassers and bigots, shortening statutes of limitations and eliminating full remedies for victims.

The proposed legislation would make Ohio’s anti-discrimination statutory schemes more onerous and less protective than existing federal discrimination laws. The Ohio Employment Lawyers Association believes that the legislation is inconsistent with a commitment to ending discrimination in the workplace and inconsistent with a commitment to equal employment opportunity in a free market. Supporting business growth should not include sacrificing key employment protections in the workplace.

The Chamber’s proposed legislation is likely to include the following:

1) grants immunity to individual racists, sexual harassers and discriminators by eliminating personal liability for their bigotry and reversing bipartisan Ohio Supreme court decisions; OELA believes individuals who discriminate should be just as responsible as businesses for their acts of intentional discrimination;

2) twice victimizes minorities, women, the elderly and disabled by eliminating full remedies and subjecting discrimination victims to damage caps not imposed upon others forced to turn to the courts for relief. The legislation imposes draconian caps on compensatory and punitive damages which discriminate against victims of discrimination because they are even lower than the caps adopted by the legislature as part of “tort reform” years ago. In effect, the Chamber proposes to further discriminate against those who have already suffered from discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodations or other fundamental life activities;

3) punishes victims of discrimination in Ohio by requiring them to file any claim for harassment or discrimination much faster than required under current federal or Ohio law. The Chamber would shorten the time in which individuals targeted by discrimination have to make an initial filing. Again, the Chamber continues to advocate that business be permitted to have 6 and 10 year periods to bring their claims, but would require sexual assault victims, the disabled and other discrimination victims to bring their claims within six months or forever lose their rights to seek justice;

4) delays justice for discrimination victims by requiring them to use an over-burdened and under-funded state bureaucracy prior to being permitted to file a lawsuit. At the same time that the current administration is cutting state-wide budgets and the Chamber is calling for the de-funding of certain state and federal agencies, the Chamber seeks to make discrimination victims file claims with the state prior to being allowed to bring a lawsuit, an obligation not similarly imposed upon businesses and corporations bringing lawsuits. Notably, the Ohio Civil Rights Commission has only one hearing officer for the entire state. Because the Commission has limited authority under the current statutes, discriminators and harassers will not be subject to Commission-issued damages, or early emergency injunctions in the case of on-going discrimination; and

5) relieves discriminators of their current obligation to pay attorneys fees and costs to their victims. Ohio would stand apart from federal law in repealing this obligation for discriminators to make discrimination victims whole for the injuries they suffered.

OELA urges members to be aware of false claims by the Chamber that its legislative proposal mirrors federal legislation. The legislation to be proposed would make Ohio one of the most backward states when it comes to protection from discrimination.

For additional information about this topic, please contact:

Andrew Margolius
Margolius, Margolius & Associates
55 Public Square
Suite 1100
Cleveland, OH 44113

216-621-6214

10/24/2011