Most people know that it is unlawful for an employer to discriminate against an employee.  But what is discrimination?  When an employer favors one employee over another, is that discrimination?  Do the discrimination laws require that employers treat all employees the same?  The short answer is no.  While there are both state and federal laws that prohibit discrimination, those laws only apply to certain protected characteristics.  Those characteristics include:

  • race
  • color
  • religion
  • sex (including pregnancy, gender identity, and sexual orientation)
  • national origin
  • age (40 or older)
  • disability
  • genetic information
  • military status

The federal laws that prohibit discrimination in the workplace include Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1963, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Title II of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (GINA) and the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA).  To pursue a claim under certain federal laws, an employee is usually required to first file a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).  The charge must be filed with the EEOC within 300 days of the discriminatory act.  After the charge is filed, the EEOC will conduct an investigation.  If the EEOC determines that a violation has occurred, they will take steps to resolve the matter which may include filing a lawsuit on behalf of the aggrieved party.  If there is no finding of discrimination, the EEOC will issue a Right to Sue letter which allows the employee to file a lawsuit in federal court.

Ohio also has its own discrimination statute which is commonly referred to as the Ohio Civil Rights Act.  Like the federal laws, Ohio’s discrimination statute also prohibits employers from discriminating against employees based on certain protected characteristics.  However, to bring a claim under Ohio’s discrimination statute, an employee is not required to file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC.  The other difference between state and federal law pertains to the size of the employer.  For certain federal laws to apply, an employer must have 15 or more employees.  Under Ohio’s discrimination statute, an employer only has to have 4 employees for the law to apply.  The state and federal laws also have different statutes of limitations.  The statute of limitations to file under federal law is considerably shorter than state law statute of limitations.

The final difference between the state and federal discrimination laws deals with damages.  If successful under either state or federal law, an employee may recover economic and noneconomic damages, including pain and suffering.  However, an employee who prevails under a federal law claim will be able to recover attorneys’ fees, while an employee who prevails under a state law claim will only be able to recover attorneys’ fees if punitive damages are awarded.

If you feel you have been a victim of discrimination in the workplace, contact Dworken & Bernstein for a free consultation.

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