Ohio Employment Discrimination Lawyer Best Reply: Can I sue for wrongful termination even if I lost my unemployment appeal? Do I lose my race and gender discrimination claims because the Department of Unemployment said I was fired with just cause? How do I apply for unemployment compensation in Ohio?
and similar Ohio laws found at Ohio Revised Code § 4112.01 et seq., the employer will argue that the employee was not fired because of the employee’s race, gender, national origin, religion, age, military status or disability, but instead for just cause. Our employment discrimination attorneys recently encountered an argument from an employer that our employee client could not recover on his wrongful termination claim, in this case based on racial discrimination, because our client was denied unemployment compensation because the Office of Unemployment Compensation – Ohio Department determined that he was fired for cause and therefore, not entitled to unemployment compensation. As a quick aside, our lawyers put very little stock in any determination by the Ohio Department of Unemployment Compensation because the findings are often inconsistent and have no real basis in the facts. Our attorneys have seen really good claims for unemployment denied, and cases where an employee quit or even cussed out a boss allowed. Because of this, our employment lawyers always recommend filing for unemployment compensation, which you can do by clicking here. What the heck, you have nothing to lose.
So back to our race discrimination case, the employer was trying to use a legal doctrine called collateral estoppel, which is defined as: “Collateral estoppel is the legal doctrine that holds that the determination of the facts litigated between the parties to a proceeding are binding and conclusive on those parties in any future litigation.” Stated more simply, once a party loses a determination of a key fact in a prior litigation, it cannot get a different court to hold differently on the key fact. So, with this in mind, the employer said that if the Ohio Department of Unemployment Compensation determined that his termination was for cause because of absences, he cannot argue in the Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court that is was wrongfully fired because of race. Specifically, the employer argued:
In order for collateral estoppel to apply, it must be shown that the fact or issue (1) was actually and directly litigated in the prior action, (2) was passed upon and determined by a court of competent jurisdiction, and (3) that the party against whom collateral estoppel is asserted was a party in privity with a party to the prior action. Geary v. Geary, 2015 Ohio-259, 27 N.E.3d 877 (Ohio Ct. App. 5th Dist. Delaware County 2015). Collateral estoppel is not restricted to determinations in court proceedings only. The doctrine applies equally to determinations passed on in administrative proceedings. Rummel v. American Spring Wire Corp.
In support of this argument, the employer cited to a case, Rummel v. American Spring Wire Corp. However, there are a multitude of problems with such an argument. First, the Department of Unemployment Compensation is not a “court of competent jurisdiction.” Second, this unreported decision cannot be found on line anywhere – which is really hard to do in today’s Googlecentric world. Third, this 1986 case, which by my math makes it about 29 years old, was superseded by statute – over 25 years ago. This means that that the Ohio legislature changed the law and made any court case using old law no longer good. Specifically, Ohio R.C. § 4141.281(D)(8) provides: “No finding of fact or law, decision, or order of the director, hearing officer, the commission, or a reviewing court under this section or section 4141.28 of the Revised Code shall be given collateral estoppel or res judicata effect in any separate or subsequent judicial, administrative, or arbitration proceeding, other than a proceeding arising under this chapter.” And, then there a ton of more recent cases that are directly opposite of the employer’s argument that hold that nothing that is determined in an unemployment hearing can be used or affect a subsequent lawsuit. For example, in Sexton v. Oak Ridge Treatment Ctr. Acquisition Corp., Ohio’s Fourth District Court of Appeals held:
“just cause” for purposes of the agency’s determination regarding a discharged employee’s eligibility to receive unemployment compensation benefits is distinct from, and has no collateral estoppel effect upon, a subsequent civil suit concerning the employee’s discharge. See, R.C. 4141.281(D)(8); Wilson v. Matlack, Inc. (2000), 141 Ohio App.3d 95, 101-102; Adams v. Harding Machine Co. (1989), 56 Ohio App.3d 150; Dean v. Miami Valley Hosp. (Feb. 22, 1988), Montgomery App. No. 10391. Thus, in the civil suit concerning Sexton’s PTO claim, the trial court erred to the extent it considered any “just cause” determination made in the unemployment compensation proceedings.
Thus, a “just cause” determination made for purposes of deciding eligibility for unemployment compensation benefits cannot have a collateral estoppel effect on a subsequent civil suit concerning the employee’s discharge. Sexton v. Oak Ridge Treatment Cent. Acquisition Corp., 167 Ohio App.3d 593, 2006-Ohio-3852, at ¶11. Cf. State ex rel. Miller v. Lincoln Constr., Inc., Franklin App. No. 04AP-197, 2005-Ohio-2962, at ¶20 (finding that R.C. 4141.281[D] prohibited the Industrial Commission from giving a res judicata effect to the UCRC’s decision that the relator’s employer discharged him without just cause).
In the case at bar, the trial court found that each of Hatton’s claims failed because the collateral estoppel doctrine prevented Hatton from re-litigating whether Interim had just cause to discharge her. Because R.C. 4141.281(D)(8) bars courts from giving the UCRC’s “just cause” determination a preclusive effect, we conclude that the trial court erred in holding that the collateral estoppel doctrine barred Hatton’s claims.
And, just to throw one more example on the pile, in Clayton v. Cleveland Clinic Foundation, Ohio’s Eighth District Court of Appeals, which sits in Cleveland, held that the opposite is true too in that an employee cannot use an unemployment compensation finding that he or she was fired without just cause against the employer is a separate civil suit:
Clayton argues that the reasons for termination were pretextual because the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services found she was terminated without cause when it awarded her unemployment compensation. However, “`just cause’ for purposes of the agency’s determination regarding a discharged employee’s eligibility to receive unemployment compensation benefits is distinct from, and has no collateral-estoppel effect upon, a subsequent civil suit concerning the employee’s discharge. See R.C. 4141.281(D)(8).”
So, there real conclusion to be had here: What happens in unemployment hearings stay in unemployment hearings. Therefore, don’t let the fact that you did not get unemployment stop you from consulting with an employment discrimination lawyer to find out if you may have a claim against your former employer.
If you are searching “I need a lawyer because I have been wrongfully fired or terminated;” or “I have been discriminated against based on my …” race, national origin, gender, age, religion or disability; or even think that you might need an employment lawyer, then it would be best to call the right attorney to schedule a free and confidential consultation at 866-797-6040. The Spitz Law Firm and its attorneys are experienced and dedicated to protecting employees’ rights and solving employment disputes.
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