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Thorman Petrov Group Co., LPA
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Congratulations to TPG's own Mark Griffin on being named one of the Best Lawyers in America for 2014!

Sixth Circuit: Ohio Law Protects Employees From Discrimination Because of Their Relationships and Associations
 
On Feb 20, 2013, in Arnold v. City of Columbus, the Sixth Circuit held that that Ohio Rev. Code § 4112.02 prohibits employers from discriminating against an employee because of his or her association with another of a particular race, color, religion, sex, military status, national origin, disability, age, or ancestry.  The Arnold decision finally eliminates a decade-old rift in how Federal and Ohio courts interpreted Ohio’s anti-discrimination statute.
 
Although Title VII and the Americans with Disabilities Act contain provisions that explicitly prohibit discrimination against a person because of his or her association with a protected individual, R.C. § 4112.02 does not.  The Sixth Circuit initially determined that this meant that association discrimination claims could not be brought under R.C. § 4112.02.  See Smith v. Hinkle Mfg.,36 Fed. Appx. 825, 830-31 (6th Cir. 2002).  Meanwhile, Ohio courts had interpreted O.R.C. § 4112.02 to provide such coverage.  See Ohio Civil Rights Comm’n v. Lysyj, 313 N.E.2d 3, 6 (Ohio 1974) (recognizing race discrimination by association claim in the context of public accommodations) and Cole v. Seafare Enters. Ltd., Inc., No. C-950157, 1996 WL 60970, at *1-*2 (Ohio Ct. App. Feb. 14, 1996) (recognizing disability discrimination by association claim in the context of employment). 
 
This rift between Federal and state courts resulted in over a decade of inconsistent judgments throughout Ohio.  Employees who found their cases removed to a Federal court often watched helplessly as their R.C. § 4112 association discrimination claims were summarily dismissed.  Only recently did the Sixth Circuit recognize the problem and abandon its prior interpretations. See e.g. Gaglioti v. Levin Group, Inc., 2012 U.S. App. LEXIS 25625, fn. 2 (6th Cir. Ohio Dec. 12, 2012) (“we…take no position on whether R.C. § 4112.02(A) applies to association discrimination claims.”).  The Arnold decision now closes the rift completely by officially adopting Ohio’s interpretations of R.C. § 4112.02.
 
In the end, the employees in Arnold were unsuccessful on their own claims for other reasons.  Nonetheless, their case ensures that other employees bringing association discrimination claims under Ohio law will not be denied justice merely because their claims happened to land in a Federal court.

- J. Matthew Linehan, Associate
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