State Rep. Bill Seitz, R-Cincinnati

Which of Ohio’s charming corn-country communities elected Ebenezer Scrooge to the Ohio General Assembly?

“Put another piece of coal on that fire, Mr. Cratchet, and you’ll keep your Christmas by losing your situation!”

Last Thursday, Democratic members of the House Economic Development, Commerce and Labor Committee objected to the anticipated committee passage of Ohio House Bill (HB) 2 along party lines, saying the GOP-led “No Rights at Work” bill will strip Ohio employees of critical protections from workplace discrimination.

The legislation was scheduled for a vote earlier this month, until it was pulled down at the last minute. The bill received a fifth hearing Thursday afternoon, but was not yet scheduled for a vote.

“Harassment and discrimination will increase in the workplace if employees lose their right to hold supervisors accountable for misbehaving and bullying,” said Rep. Michele Lepore-Hagan, D-Youngstown, the highest ranking Democrat on the committee. “I believe workers deserve to feel safe and welcome when they go to work every day to provide for their families.”

House Bill 2 changes the definition of an employer to exclude anyone working on behalf of an employer either directly or indirectly, including supervisors. Democratic committee members argue this narrow definition will prevent supervisors and other individuals from being held accountable for discriminatory actions.

“House Bill 2 places Ohio on the dangerous path of rolling back workers’ civil rights in the face of racism, sexism and ageism at a time when hatred is unfortunately becoming more overt in our society,” said Rep. Alicia Reece, D-Cincinnati.

HB 2 provides an affirmative defense for employers when sexual harassment in the workplace is alleged if the employer can meet two basic requirements. The employer only needs to show that they took reasonable action to prevent or correct the alleged behavior and show the victim failed to take advantage of preventative or corrective measures to avoid harassment.

“This legislation would prevent employers and supervisors from being held accountable for workplace discrimination by tipping the scale to favor powerful bosses and supervisors,” said Rep. Brigid Kelly, D-Cincinnati. “Victims of even the most vicious harassment at the hands of a supervisor will be left stranded with little legal recourse if the legislature strips workers of longstanding protections.”

Contrary to supporters’ claims, opponents of HB 2 say the bill does little to align state and federal employment discrimination laws and instead leaves employees in Ohio with extremely limited options for seeking justice.

“It is simply unconscionable that this General Assembly wants to strip workers of civil protections that have been in place for over half a century,” said Rep. Michael Sheehy, D-Oregon. “This backwards measure will harm the working Ohioans who need protection the most.”

The bill also drastically reduces the statute of limitation for filing employment-related discrimination lawsuits from six years to one.

“House Bill 2 hurts workers by severely limiting the amount of time that they have to exercise their civil rights,” said Rep. Thomas West, D-Canton. “This anti-civil rights bill represents an enormous step in the wrong direction for our state and will only continue to perpetuate workplace environments that put profit before people.”

The Ohio Civil Rights Commission (OCRC), the ACLU of Ohio and the Ohio Employment Lawyers Association and Protecting Ohio’s Employees (OELA) all testified in opposition to HB 2 in committee.

More info from the National Law Review:

In addition, the bill would modify Ohio law on age discrimination claims. Under Ohio’s current statutory scheme, age discrimination claims are handled differently than claims related to other protected classes, such as race and gender. The proposed legislation would consolidate age discrimination claims with other types of employment discrimination claims to equate age to other protected classes.

Remember, in Ohio, Republicans have refused to allow sexual orientation or identity to be included among the protected classes.

Another key provision of House Bill 2 would alter the interaction between administrative claims and civil lawsuits. Currently, employees can file charges of discrimination with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission while concurrently pursuing a lawsuit in state court. The proposed legislation would prohibit these types of duplicative legal proceedings by requiring employees to choose between filing an administrative charge or a civil lawsuit.

Who can we thank for the introduction of this bill? Why, state Rep. Bill Seitz, R-Cincinnati. I’d never put it together before, but that’s an ignominious character name straight out of Dickens if I’ve ever heard one.

“Many can’t work, Mr. Scrooge, and many would rather die.”

“Well, if they’d rather die they’d better do it! And decrease the surplus population!”

D.C. DeWitt is a writer and man of sport and leisure. He has also written for Government Executive online, the National Journal’s Hotline, and The New York Observer’s Politicker.com. He is the Associate Editor of The Athens NEWS in Athens, Ohio. DeWitt can be found on Facebook and Twitter @DC_DeWitt.

 

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