On June 2, 2009, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that age discrimination claims brought under Section 4112.99 of the Ohio Revised Code (R.C.) are subject to the substantive conditions and requirements set forth in R.C. 4112.02 and 4112.14. In a 6 to 1 decision, the Court found that the plaintiff in Meyer v. United Parcel Service (UPS) was barred by R.C. 4112.14(C)’s arbitration provision from bringing his claim of age discrimination, which had been asserted under R.C. 4112.99.
Ohio’s Statutory Age Discrimination Maze
R.C. Chapter 4112 provides a convoluted maze of different avenues for a plaintiff asserting a claim of age discrimination. R.C. 4112.02(A) generally prohibits discriminatory employment practices, including age discrimination. Subsection (N) of R.C. 4112.02 specifically provides a right to file an age-discrimination action. Separately, R.C. 4112.14 prohibits age discrimination in certain specific contexts, namely, failure to hire and discharge, and identifies the limited types of damages recoverable under this specific section. Yet another section, R.C. 4112.99, is a general provision stating that a party engaging in any type of discriminatory conduct prohibited by Chapter 4112, which includes more than just discrimination on the basis of age, “is subject to an action for civil damages, injunctive relief, or any other appropriate relief.” (Note: If this framework sounds confusing to you – take heart: attorneys and members of the judiciary alike have drifted in Ohio’s “Bermuda Triangle” statutory scheme for age discrimination claims.)
Robert Meyer, was a 25-year employee of UPS. According to UPS, Meyer was discharged for dishonesty and other serious offenses. After UPS’s internal grievance procedure rejected Meyer’s claim that he had been discharged without just cause, Meyer filed a wrongful termination suit. Meyer initially asserted a wrongful discharge claim against UPS under Ohio’s workers’ compensation statute, but later amended his complaint to include a claim of age discrimination under R.C. 4112.99.
A jury found in favor of Meyer awarding him more than $300,000 in damages. On review, the First District Court of Appeals vacated the verdict. The court held that Meyer’s workers’ compensation-based claim should not have been tried to a jury and that the jury’s verdict on his separate age discrimination claim was influenced by the evidence he presented in support of his workers’ compensation claim.
Despite this portion of the ruling favorable to UPS, the Court of Appeals did not agree with UPS’s separate arguments concerning Meyer’s age discrimination claim brought under R.C. 4112.99. UPS argued that this claim was barred by language in R.C. 4112.14 that precludes litigation of an age discrimination claim if the plaintiff’s discharge has previously been arbitrated and found to be for just cause. The appellate court rejected the argument, and UPS appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court.
The Ohio Supreme Court’s Decision
The first issue the Supreme Court considered was the relationship of the several statutes applicable to a claim for age discrimination. Recognizing R.C. 4112.99 to be only a “gap filling” provision, the Court found that it plays no specific role as to age discrimination claims because such claims are governed by the other sections in R.C. Chapter 4112 that are specific to age discrimination. With no “gap to fill,” the Court held that an age discrimination claim brought pursuant to R.C. 4112.99 is subject to the substantive provisions of R.C. 4112.02 and 4112.14.
With this understanding in place, the Court turned to the dispositive issue of whether Meyer’s age discrimination claim was barred by R.C. 4112.14(C), which says that a wrongful discharge claim is not available “when the discharge has been arbitrated and has been found to be for just cause.” The Supreme Court agreed with UPS that the UPS grievance procedure, of which Meyer took advantage, was the functional equivalent of arbitration.
As to whether R.C. 4112.14(C) barred Meyer from proceeding to trial on his age discrimination claim under R.C. 4112.99, the Supreme Court also agreed with UPS. The Supreme Court found the provisions of R.C. 4112.14(C) applicable to plaintiff’s age discrimination claim premised upon 4112.99. In reaching this conclusion, the Court reiterated that an age-discrimination claim brought pursuant to R.C. 4112.99 is subject to the substantive provisions of R.C. 4112.02 and 4112.14.
Based on the Court’s decision in Meyer v. UPS, a plaintiff’s claim for age discrimination under the general provision of Ohio’s anti-discrimination statute, R.C. 4112.99, is subject to the substantive limitations set forth in R.C. 4112.02 and 4112.14, including the arbitration limitation. The Meyer decision is favorable to employers and can be relied upon to prevent a plaintiff from proceeding under the general provision, R.C. 4112.99, in an effort to circumvent the various limitations prescribed by the other age-specific sections of Chapter 4112.