Employment discrimination is the practice of unfairly treating a person or group of people differently from other people or groups of other people at work, because of their membership in a legally protected category such as race, sex, age, or religion. Each state has passed laws and rules to protect your workplace rights: this page covers Ohio employment discrimination. The purpose of Ohio antidiscrimination laws is to protect workers in Ohio from unlawful discrimination in employment. Read below to learn more about Ohio employment law and how the law protects you.
1. What kinds of discrimination are against state law in Ohio?
Ohio law makes it illegal for an employer to discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, handicap, age ancestry, sexual orientation, military status, or veterans’ status.
Ohio law permits workers who win age discrimination cases to receive compensatory (emotional pain and suffering) and punitive damages (damages intended to punish the employer), which are not allowed under the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA).
2. How do I file a discrimination claim in Ohio?
A discrimination claim can be filed either with the state administrative agency, Ohio Department of Administrative Services, Equal Opportunity Division or the federal administrative agency, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The two agencies have what is called a "work-sharing agreement," which means that the agencies cooperate with each other to process claims. Filing a claim with both agencies is unnecessary, as long as you indicate to one of the agencies that you want it to "cross-file" the claim with the other agency.
The Ohio anti-discrimination statute covers some smaller employers not covered by federal law. Therefore, if your workplace has between 4 and 14 employees, you may wish to file with the OCRC, as the EEOC enforces federal law which covers only employers with 15 or more employees.
Filing with the OCRC is not required to pursue a discrimination claim directly in court. However, the opposite is true for age discrimination cases. That is, filing an age discrimination claim with the OCRC will prevent you from pursuing an Ohio age discrimination claim in court. Income cases, filing with the EEOC in Ohio will also prevent you from pursuing those age discriminations as well. This is known as Ohio's age discrimination "election of remedies." Therefore, be sure that you understand the consequences of electing to file with the OCRC or EEOC before you do so. If you do not have an attorney, however, you may wish to see whether the OCRC can assist you in resolving your claim without filing in court. OCRC complaints must be filed within 180 days of the date you believe you were discriminated against.
Some attorneys recommend, however, that if a lawyer is going to be pursuing a claim on your behalf, that you not file with the OCRC, because it is not required to pursue your claim in court, and courts are allowed to award certain types of monetary damages not allowed before the OCRC. If you wish to consult an attorney about taking your case, you should do so as early as possible, so that you do not miss your 180-day filing deadline in the event you need the OCRC's assistance.
To file a claim with the OCRC, contact the nearest office below. More information about filing a claim with the OCRC can be found at the website. You may also check out more information at the Ohio Department of Administrative Services, Equal Opportunity Division.
Columbus Regional Office
To file a claim with the EEOC, contact the nearest local EEOC office. More information about filing a claim with the EEOC can be found at http://www.eeoc.gov/facts/howtofil.html.
EEOC — Cincinnati Area Office
EEOC — Cleveland District Office
EEOC has launched an online service that enables individuals who have filed a discrimination charge to check the status of their charge online. This service provides a portal to upload and receive documents and communicate with the EEOC, allowing for a faster transmitting period. Those who have filed a charge can access information about their charge at their convenience, and allow entities that have been charged to receive the same information on the status of the charge. All of the EEOC offices now use the Digital Charge System. If you file on or after September 2, 2016, the Online Charge Status System is available for use. The system is not available for charges filed prior to this date or for charges filed with EEOC's state and local Fair Employment Practices Agencies. The system can be accessed at the EEOC website. If you do not have internet or need language assistance, you may call the toll-free number at 1-800-669-4000. For additional help, you may also call the toll free number to retrieve the same information provided in the Online Charge Status System.
3. What are my time deadlines?
If you choose to file a discrimination claim with one of these administrative agencies, do not delay in contacting the OCRC or EEOC to file a claim. There are strict time limits in which charges of employment discrimination must be filed. In order for the OCRC to act on your behalf, you must file with the OCRC (or cross-file with the EEOC) within 180 days of the date you believe you were discriminated against. To preserve your claim under federal law, you must file with the EEOC (or cross-file with the state agency) within 300 days of the date you believe you were discriminated against. However, as you might have other legal claims with shorter deadlines, do not wait to file your claim until your time limit is close to expiring. You may wish to consult with an attorney prior to filing your claim, if possible. Yet if you are unable to find an attorney who will assist you, it is not necessary to have an attorney to file your discrimination claim with the state and federal administrative agencies.
You may also wish to check with your city or county to see if you live and/or work in a city or county with a local anti-discrimination law, or "ordinance." Some cities and counties in Ohio have agencies that process claims under local ordinances and may be able to assist you. These agencies are often called the "Human Rights Commission," "Human Relations Commission," or the "Civil Rights Commission." Check your local telephone directory or government website for further information.
4. What happens after I file a charge with the EEOC?
When your charge is filed, the EEOC will give you a copy of your charge with your charge number. Within 10 days, the EEOC will also send a notice and a copy of the charge to the employer. At that point, the EEOC may decide to do one of the following:
- Ask both you and the employer to take part in a mediation program
- Ask the employer to provide a written answer to your charge and answer questions related to your claim, then your charge will be given to an investigator
- Dismiss the claim if your charge was not filed in time or if the EEOC does not have jurisdiction
If the EEOC decides to investigate your charge, the EEOC may interview witnesses and gather documents. Once the investigation is complete, they will let you and the employer know the result. If they decides that discrimination did not occur then they will send you a “Notice of Right to Sue.” This notice gives you permission to file a lawsuit in a court of law. If the EEOC determines that discrimination occurred then they will try to reach a voluntary settlement with the employer. If a settlement cannot reached, your case will be referred to the EEOC’s legal staff (or the Department of Justice in certain cases), who will decide whether or not the agency should file a lawsuit. If the EEOC decides not to file a lawsuit then they will give you a “Notice of Right to Sue.” `
How long the investigation takes depends on a lot of different things, including the amount of information that needs to be gathered and analyzed. On average, it takes the EEOC nearly 6 months to investigate a charge. A charge is often able to settle faster through mediation (usually in less than 3 months).
5. How can I or my attorney pursue a claim in court in Ohio?
If your case is successfully resolved by an administrative agency, it may not be necessary to hire an attorney or file a lawsuit (to resolve your case, you probably will be required as to sign a release of your legal claims). If your case is not resolved by the OCRC or EEOC, and you may want to continue to pursue the matter, you will need to pursue your claim in court. A federal employment discrimination case cannot be filed in court without first going to the EEOC, as discussed above, and having the EEOC dismiss your claim. This process is called "exhaustion" of your administrative remedy. Exhaustion is not required to proceed with your state discrimination claim.
Because Ohio law does not limit the compensatory (emotional pain and suffering) damages for a discrimination claim, many Ohio attorneys choose to file employment discrimination cases in state court under state law only; however, most cases may be brought in either state or federal court, using state or federal law.
The EEOC must first issue the document known as "Dismissal and Notice of Rights" or "Notice of Right to Sue" (Form 161) before you can file a case based upon your federal claim. A lawsuit based on your federal discrimination claim must be filed in federal or state court within 90 days of the date you receive the notice. (Be sure to mark down that date when you receive the notice.)
A lawsuit based on your state discrimination claim must be filed within 6 years of the date you believe you were discriminated against, except for age discrimination claims, which must be filed within 180 days of the date you believe you were discriminated against.
These deadlines are called the "statute of limitations." If you have received one of these agency dismissal letters, do not delay consulting with an attorney. If your lawsuit is not filed by the deadline, then you may lose your ability to pursue a discrimination case.