Cuyahoga County Lawsuit Highlights Lack Of Ohio Laws Preventing Sexual Orientation Discrimination

The recent end of a federal-level lawsuit brought by a former Cuyahoga County employee alleging workplace discrimination against her because she was a lesbian may lead to statewide laws preventing such on-the-job bias. In fact, two state senators have introduced House Bill 335 that would add sexual orientation to the list of distinct classes of people against whom discrimination is illegal. These "protected classes" currently include:

  • Age
  • Race
  • Color/Ethnicity
  • Sex/Gender
  • Religion
  • National origin
  • Disability
  • Military status

There are currently no specific federal or Ohio state statutes preventing bias based on sexual orientation in spite of the fact that Gallup polls show that the majority of Americans believe that such discrimination should be illegal. Most businesses in the state, including municipal employers like Cuyahoga County itself, do have internal policies prohibiting sexual orientation discrimination, though such policies are rarely strictly enforced.

The lawsuit brought by Stacy Hutchinson - a former case worker at the Cuyahoga County Child Support Enforcement Agency - was based upon her assertions that she was repeatedly passed over for promotions and was the subject of continued harassment because of her sexual preference (she is a lesbian in a committed relationship). While the County did have a workplace policy in place to prevent such discrimination, Hutchinson's lawsuit asserted that it offered her no protection. That is why two state senators have introduced legislation to specifically outlaw workplace discrimination against gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender individuals.

In lieu of fighting Hutchinson's case in federal court, Cuyahoga County conceded her points and settled the matter by paying her $100,000 to presumably both compensate her for lost job opportunities and account for her pain and suffering. Even so, current Ohio law does not specifically prohibit discrimination against members of the GLBT community, and proposals similar to House Bill 335 have failed in past legislative sessions.

That certainly doesn't mean that bias against people solely because of their sexual orientation is right, though. The fact remains that workplace discrimination against any member of a protected class is illegal. If you or a loved one has been the victim of bias or harassment on the job, contact an experienced employment law attorney in your area to learn more about your legal rights and options.