Ohio employment law: Can filing an employment lawsuit hurt your future job prospects?

I am often asked, by clients who are considering a lawsuit against a former employer, whether it can hurt them in their search for other employment. They are worried that potential new employers will find out that they have sued a previous employer, and that this will discourage employers from hiring them. Is this a realistic concern?

Yes and no. When a lawsuit is filed in court, it does normally become a matter of public record, meaning that someone searching for information about the parties to the suit could find out about it, even if there is no media coverage of the case. Many employers nowadays, especially larger ones, do comprehensive background checks on job applicants before hiring them. And some employers would be put off by the fact that an applicant has sued a previous employer.

I offer clients the following advice when asked about this. First of all, it is illegal for an employer to refuse to hire someone because they have asserted their rights under statutes prohibiting employment discrimination, even if those rights are asserted against a former, unrelated employer. Secondly, in my experience there are many employers that will not blackball otherwise well qualified applicants just because they have stood up for their rights in the past. Lastly, federal law provides that an employer has to obtain your written consent, and meet several Notice requirements, before it can obtain a background report on you from a third party agency or service.

Having said all that, it is not a bad idea to wait to file your case, if you can, until after you have found another job. Though your new employer may also find out about a past or existing suit, it is far less likely you will be fired for this reason after you have a new job, than that you will not be hired in the first place.