Best Ohio Employment Discrimination Attorney Answer: Is there any protection for homosexuals under Ohio’s employment laws? Do LGBT employees in Ohio have any recourse for sexual orientation discrimination? Do homosexuals have greater protections in other states?
Sadly, under Ohio law, employers can still discriminate against homosexual employees. That means that an employer could literally tell someone “I am firing you because you are gay” and the employee would have no recourse under Ohio law. (See Can My Employer Discriminate Against Me Because I Am LGBT? I Need A Lawyer.)
However, this does not mean that homosexual employees in Ohio have no protection at all. For example, those who work for federal contractors and subcontractors who do at least $10,000 a year in business with the federal government cannot be discriminated by their employer thanks to an executive order signed by President Obama earlier this year. (See Top Employment Lawyer Reply: Can My Job Discriminate Against Me Because Of My Sexual Orientation?)
Moreover, as our employment discrimination attorneys have blogged before, Ohio law prohibits employers from discriminating against employees who do not fit certain gender stereotypes. (See LGBT Employment Rights: Can I Be Fired For Dressing Too Masculine?).
Other states have made greater strides towards recognizing the rights of homosexuals to be free from discrimination and harassment on the basis of their sexual orientation at work. For example, in New York, the New York Human Rights Law has specifically prohibited discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation since 2003. Local ordinances in New York City take the law further for residents, shifting certain legal presumptions that exist in Federal and state employment laws and shifting them in favor of plaintiffs.
In the recent case of Roberts v. United Parcel Service, Inc., a lesbian woman received a jury verdict of $100,000 after she sued UPS for creating a hostile work environment on the basis of her sexual orientation, and retaliating against her when she reported it. In Roberts, the employee was a lesbian who had worked for UPS for approximately twenty years. In 2007, Roberts received a new supervisor, Donald Woodard. When Woodard found out that Roberts was a lesbian, he brought his bible into work and told Roberts that “the bible says that being a lesbian is wrong…[i]t goes against the bible…[i]t’s a sin.” Roberts complained to management, but nothing was done. As a result, Woodard was free to continue his harassment of Roberts, which he did. Woodard would regularly tell Roberts that being a lesbian was “wrong,” “a sin”, that Roberts was “going to hell,” and that Roberts needed to “change [her] life, the style, the way [she was] living.” Roberts continued to complain to UPS supervisors, but her complaints fell of deaf ears.
In 2011, Woodard threatened to take a photo of Roberts with a married male co-worker so he could send it to the co-worker’s wife to suggest Roberts and the co-worker were having an affair. Roberts immediately complained to her night manager, who told Roberts not to take it any higher, because he would take care of it. Subsequently, Woodard left Roberts alone for about a year. However, Woodard resumed his harassment sometime in 2012, telling Roberts “two women being married is not natural” and that Roberts had “demons inside her.”
Shortly after Woodard had gone back on the attack, Roberts made an anonymous complaint to UPS’s corporate offices about Woodard. Shortly thereafter, UPS opened an investigation, and interviewed Roberts and Woodard. However, rather than disciplining Woodard or even terminating him, UPS merely made Roberts read UPS’ anti-harassment policy – a slap on the wrist! Shortly afterwards, Woodard retaliated against Roberts by altering her time cards to get her in trouble, and by causing several boxes to fall on her, causing her injury.
Shortly after the trial, UPS filed a number of motions to challenge the verdict. However, in a decision affirming the jury’s verdict, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York explained how the evidence showed that UPS’ Human Resources Manager, Beverly Riddick, did not take Robert’s concerns seriously because she did not think Woodard’s conduct was unlawful, which in turn allowed Woodard’s conduct to go on unchallenged:
Q: In the meeting with Donald Woodard . . . Woodard also told you that he showed Ms. Roberts the Bible and told her that her sexual orientation is a sin, true?
Q: Donald Woodard also told you that God does not approve of Ms. Roberts homosexuality and showed her the verse from the Bible that says that, correct?
Q: But you did not tell Mr. Woodard that such comments are illegal in the workplace, did you?
A: I did not.
Q: You didn’t tell him that those comments were illegal because you didn’t think they were illegal or unlawful.
A: That is correct.
Q: In your opinion, those comments were inappropriate but nothing more, correct?
Q: In fact, you didn’t think that telling Ms. Roberts that God . . . does not approve of her sexual preference constitutes harassment in the workplace, isn’t that true?
A: That’s true. …
Q: You also met with Victor Robinson on December 6th, 2012, correct?
A: That is correct.
Q: Victor Robinson is an hourly employee that works in the Maspeth facility with Ms. Roberts, correct?
Q: And [Victor] Robinson told you that he and Donald Woodard discussed religion at work, true?
Q: Victor Robinson told you that Donald Woodard said that homosexuality is a sin, true?
Q: But in your professional opinion, Woodard stating that homosexuality is a sin, in the workplace, does not constitute discrimination or harassment, isn’t that true?
A: True. …
Q: And on December 6th, 2012 you met with Kenneth Gayden?
Q: Mr. Gayden told you that Woodard made a statement quote people are not living right and it is wrong to be a lesbian, isn’t that true?
Q: But again, in your professional opinion, stating in the workplace that people are not living right and it’s wrong to be a lesbian does not constitute discrimination or harassment, correct?
Q: You also don’t believe that making such comments in the workplace violates the law, correct?
A: I do not.
Q: And Gayden also told [you that] Donald Woodard has problems with females, true?
Q: So, at this point, two people told you, Ms. Roberts and Kenneth Gayden, that Woodard had issues with females in the workplace but you did not investigate the issue, correct?
A: I did not.
Q: You didn’t feel it was important, correct?
A: Not at that time.
Q: You never felt it was important to look into the allegations that Mr. Woodard had a history of disrespecting women at UPS, is that correct?
A: That is correct.
Q: Ken Gayden also told you that Donald Woodard said people who aren’t living right are demons, true?
A: Yes, he did tell me that, yes.
Q: And in your opinion the comment people who are not— aren’t living right are demons made in the workplace does not constitute discrimination or harassment, true?
A: That’s true.
Q: Mr. Gayden also told you that Donald Woodard spoke to other employees about Ms. Roberts’s sexual preference, true?
Q: And in your opinion, discussing other employee’s sexual preference in the workplace does not constitute discrimination or harassment, true?
One would think that HR would have some idea that preaching fire and brimstone to your co-workers, or at least in New York, attacking their sexual orientation, is against the law. In fact, it turns out thatdiscrimination based on sexual orientation was also against UPS own policies, yet HR felt Woodard’s comments were merely “inappropriate”:
Q: Ms. Riddick, during your employment at UPS you received annual training in discrimination and harassment policies, correct?
A: I have, yes.
Q You also received training as to discrimination based on sexual orientation, correct?
Q: You’re also familiar with the various statutes that prohibit discrimination in the workplace such as the New York City Human Rights Law, correct?
Q: And you understand the type of conduct that constitutes a hostile work environment, correct?
A: I do, yes.
Q: And in your opinion, repeated or continual comments in the workplace constitutes a hostile work environment, isn’t that true?
Q: Ms. Riddick, you’re also fully aware of UPS’s professional conduct and anti-harassment policy, correct?
Q: And you’ve reviewed this policy multiple times, correct?
Q: You were trained on this policy annually, correct?
Q: . . . Ms. Riddick, please take a look at Joint Exhibit Number 1, let me know when you’re done.
A: I’m all set with this.
Q: This is UPS’s professional conduct and anti-harassment policy I was just asking you about, correct?
A: Yes, it is.
Q: And this is the one that Donald Woodard signed on January 27th, 2012, correct?
Q: You were trained on this policy annually, correct?
Q: UPS’s professional conduct and anti-harassment policy states, and it’s in front of you, in paragraph two, harassment of any person or group of persons on the basis of race, sex, national origin, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, veteran military status, pregnancy, age or religion is a form of unlawful discrimination which is specifically prohibited in the UPS community and which may subject the company and/or the individual harasser to liability. Accordingly, derogatory or other inappropriate remarks, slurs, threats or jokes will not be tolerated. Correct?
Q: Mr. Woodard also received that policy, correct?
A: Yes, he did.
Q: And he reviewed and signed this policy every year, correct?
A: To my knowledge, yes.
Q: Based on all of your training your knowledge in the law and UPS’s policies and procedures, after concluding your investigation into Ms. Roberts’s complaints you determined that her complaint was unsubstantiated, correct?
Q: Ms. Roberts’s complaint was unsubstantiated because the core of her complaints, according to you, did not align with what is prohibited by UPS’s professional conduct anti-harassment policy I just read to you, correct?
Q: Have you ever read that policy, Ms. Riddick?
A: I have.
Wow … just wow.
The Court went on to deny each of UPS’ post-trial motions, finding that Roberts was entitled to the full amount of the verdict, including the jury’s punitive damages award. As the Court explained, there was ample evidence that UPS had acted recklessly, and failed to take appropriate steps to stop Woodard:
[UPS] [a]ssert[s] a claim that plaintiff has failed to prove a pattern of “turning a blind eye” to reports of discrimination and retaliation.
To the contrary, plaintiff demonstrated sufficiently for a jury finding that defendant acted with reckless indifference to her multiple complaints of sexual orientation discrimination over many years. UPS was anything but prompt.By 2012, when Riddick, a high-level manager for defendant, conducted an investigation, she determined, contrary to the overwhelming evidence of discrimination that no discrimination had occurred. She did not discipline Woodard in any meaningful fashion and allowed him to continue supervising plaintiff for a short period.
Even if plaintiff failed to demonstrate that defendant retaliated because of her complaints by altering her time card and by failing to provide a safe work environment for plaintiff, there was sufficient proof of retaliation in central administration’s cavalier attitude towards plaintiff’s serious charges of harassment. Plaintiff is entitled to punitive damages as a matter of law.
If Roberts had brought her claims under Ohio law, she would have had a much harder road. At most, she could have brought a hostile work environment, sexual harassment claim, possibly a religious discrimination claim (it is unclear why she did not do so in New York as well) or perhaps gender discrimination. However, for the time being, Ohio law is outdated, and should be modernized to reflect the nations changing attitudes towards homosexuals.
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