Ohio State University Settles Age Discrimination Claims
The school agreed to pay almost $1 million and toughen its age discrimination policies in response to a lawsuit filed by two ESL instructors.
According to the plaintiffs, administrators in the English as a Second Language program systematically tried to force out older instructors. In an email inadvertently forwarded to colleagues, the program’s head complained that he must die with “an extraordinarily change-averse population of people, almost all of whom are over 50, contemplating retirement (or not) and it’s like herding hippos.” That email turned out to be the smoking gun. The plaintiffs already had considerable amounts of circumstantial evidence. For example, senior instructors lost their offices while junior faculty members were immune to these changes.
Kathryn Moon and Julianne Taaffe retired because of the hostile environment. Under the terms of the settlement, OSU rehired them, paid over $450,000 in back pay and lost benefits, and paid over $300,000 in attorneys’ fees. Moreover, the school agreed to provide ongoing injunctive relief that includes sensitivity training.
The Mechanics of an Age Discrimination Case in Ohio
In a way, age discrimination claims work the same way as other claims of discrimination. Both state and federal law prohibits employers from taking adverse action against workers or potential workers because of their age. In both cases, employees and potential employees over 40 belong to a protected class.
Ohio laws are a little broader than federal laws in this area. Perhaps most significantly, there is no exhaustion requirement in Ohio law. Therefore, if you believe you were an age discrimination victim, you may immediately seek help from an experienced attorney. There are other differences as well. For example, Ohio law includes an “aiding and abetting” clause. Moreover, in most cases, Ohio’s statute of limitations is longer.
These broad laws and the no-exhaustion requirements are both very important in age discrimination cases. In the early 2000s, the United States Supreme Court made it more difficult to win these cases and also limited the damages available. For these reasons, the Ohio Civil Rights Commission is often not interested in age discrimination claims. If the case will not settle quickly for a significant amount of money, many agencies would rather dedicate their resources elsewhere.
Some Age Discrimination Strategies
Given the status of the law, it is difficult to win age discrimination cases in Ohio based on circumstantial evidence. Fortunately, that is usually not necessary. Circumstantial evidence is usually enough to make a preliminary case, and that is sufficient to get the case to the discovery process. If there is a smoking gun, and there usually is, an attorney usually finds it during this phase of the case.
Another approach is to add a retaliation claim to the age discrimination claim. That way, the plaintiff need not prove age discrimination as such. The plaintiff only needs to establish that the boss reacted harshly to a complaint. It does not matter if the complaint was valid or not. The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission does basically the same thing. The EEOC files more retaliation complaints than any other kind of complaint.
Contact An Experienced Discrimination Attorney
Age discrimination claims are difficult, but not impossible, to win. For a confidential consultation with an experienced employment law attorney in Columbus, contact Marshall & Forman LLC. After-hours appointments are available.