Ohio’s Supreme Court expanded the rights of employees to file lawsuits alleging that a company terminated them in retaliation for filing a workers’ compensation claim. Under Section 4123.90 of Ohio law, a former employee must give written notice of intent to file suit against his former employer within 90 days following his “discharge.” However, the Court had to determine what happens when an employee does not immediately learn about his discharge.
In Lawrence v. City of Youngstown, 2012 WL 4125873 (2012), the City suspended Keith Lawrence with pay on January 7, 2007. A January 9 letter drafted by the City notified Lawrence of his discharge effective as of the date of the letter. However, Lawrence claimed in his complaint that he did not learn of his discharge until February 19. Lawrence’s lawyer sent a letter to the City of Youngstown dated April 17, more than 90 days after January 9, but within 60 days after Lawrence stated he found out about his discharge. The county court hearing the case ruled in favor of the City, because the City received Lawrence’s letter more than 90 days after his discharge. However, the Supreme Court disagreed.
The Ohio Supreme Court reversed the lower court and allowed the case to continue. Section 4123.90 states that the employer has to receive written notice “within the ninety days immediately following the discharge,” and not “notice of the discharge.” Thus, the statute is “unambiguous.” It stated that courts should liberally construe the statute and that, therefore, an employer should make a good faith effort to communicate the fact of a discharge “within a reasonable time after the discharge.” Moreover, the Court noted that employers may notify an employee of a discharged by personal notification, hand-delivery or a certified letter. The Court did not view its ruling as creating a burden on employers in Ohio. The ruling does, however, require that all employers should adopt a practice of informing their employees of discharges in a manner sufficient for the employer to prove that the employee actually received the notice. Such a practice is useful throughout the United States as part of “best practices” for human resource departments.