Mandatory arbitration of employment claims has become almost commonplace in recent decades. The courts have repeatedly upheld the enforceability of arbitration “agreements“ between employees and employers, even though employees typically don’t have any choice in signing them. They are normally given to employees at the time of hire, and employees must sign them in order to get the job and start work.

Lawyers who represent employees in discrimination, harassment, and other employment claims historically have disliked these agreements. They believe that employees often can expect better outcomes from a jury than from an arbitrator. Nevertheless, efforts to fight the enforceability of arbitration agreements have largely been unsuccessful.

With respect to sexual harassment claims, however, that changed this year when a new law went into effect, called the “Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment Act of 2021.” The Act is a federal law that applies to all claims arising out of sexual misconduct, regardless of whether the claim is asserted under a federal or state statute, or under the common law. It gives employees who have sexual harassment or sexual assault claims the right to “opt out” of any mandatory arbitration agreements they may have signed during their employment with the employer they are suing.

This is important not only because it means employees can get their sexual harassment claims heard by a jury, but also because lawsuits are public proceedings, whereas arbitration proceedings are confidential and private. The public nature of litigation can provide employers with an added incentive to settle cases that could cause them embarrassment. It also means that data about lawsuits filed against individual employers, and how employers have handled such lawsuits, are available to the general public.

Some employees who have sexual harassment claims may also have other claims against the same employer that are not related to sexual misconduct. For instance the employee may also have a claim of race discrimination, breach of contract, or unpaid overtime. In this instance, the employee’s case may have to be heard in two different forums. The employee can file a lawsuit over the sexual harassment claim, because the Act says an employer can’t force arbitration of that claim. But the employee may still have to go to arbitration to pursue her other claims, in accordance with the arbitration agreement she signed.

Employees who have potential sexual harassment claims, and employers facing such claims, should definitely be aware that mandatory arbitration agreements are no longer enforceable with regard to such claims. This will dramatically change the landscape of litigation when it comes to these types of cases.


The Americans with Disabilities Act and state law both require employers to provide reasonable accommodations to their employees, if they are necessary to allow the employees to perform the essential functions of their jobs. These accommodations can take many forms. They can involve supplying equipment, removing barriers, restructuring an employee’s job, modifying his or her schedule, etc.

What if an employee needs a leave of absence because of a disability? For instance, what if they need time off due to a flare up of their condition, or to recover from a disability-related surgery or treatment? This obviously requires the employee to be away from work entirely during the leave of absence. Does an employer have to provide this kind of accommodation, essentially allowing the employee to not work for a while, and then return him or her to the job they held previously?

The answer is “yes,“ as long as certain conditions are met. First, the amount of the leave requested be reasonable, and it cannot be indefinite. The employer is entitled to know approximately when the employee will be able to return. Second, if the leave of absence requested would impose an undue hardship on the employer, the employer does not have to provide it. So if the employer can show that doing without the employee for the period of time requested would do harm to the employer’s business, it may not be necessary in that circumstance for the employer to accommodate employee’s request for leave.

It is important to note that the employer does not have to provide paid leave in these situations, and can require the employee to pay for the cost of keeping their insurance in place while they are off.

Obviously, questions about whether a particular leave of absence is a “reasonable accommodation” can be tricky. Both employers and employees should get qualified legal representation when addressing these kinds of issues. Making mistakes in this arena can be very costly, and can result in significant damages if the wrong choice is made.

If you see a headline about a jury verdict in an employment case, it’s likely to be about a case where an employee was fired. Those are the cases where the impact of discrimination can be the most harmful. A wrongful firing can often cause enormous financial and emotional distress to a family, and the jury verdicts in such cases can sometimes be eye-popping.

But people often forget that federal and state employment laws prohibit discrimination at ALL phases of the employment relationship. They apply at the hiring stage as much as at the termination stage. And they also apply at various stages DURING the employment relationship. When employers make decisions about promotions, for instance, they are required to give opportunities without regard to race, sex, age, disability, etc. The same is true for decisions about pay. Employees cannot be denied raises or other benefits based on these characteristics.

Another example is training. And this can be key. If an employee is denied training opportunities, that in turn can lead to being denied opportunities for advancement later on. The Civil Rights Act of 1964, and comparable state laws, provide that employers must not discriminate when making decisions about which employees will be given the chance to learn new skills.

Employers are often mindful of anti-discrimination laws when preparing to terminate employees. They tend to be most fearful of lawsuits when making those kinds of momentous decisions. They sometimes are less careful, however, when making other kinds of employment decisions, and that lack of care can come back to haunt them. Their hiring, promotion, and pay practices and processes are very important as well, and can expose them to significant legal liabilities if they are not even-handed in their application.

Employers are well-advised to have good legal counsel review these process and procedures And employees should be mindful that they have the right to be free from illegal discrimination not just at termination, but at all phases of the employment relationship.

In the law, people aren’t always held to the promises they make. “I promise I’ll marry you,” or “I promise I’ll buy you a car,” are examples of promises the law usually will not enforce.

We are taught to live up to our promises, but in the law a promise is not normally enforceable unless the person making the promise receives something in exchange. If there is an exchange of promises the law usually considers that a contract. In the absence of a contract, however, a promise usually can’t be enforced at law.

But there is an exception. This is called “promissory estoppel.” This phrase means that sometimes a person will be stopped (“estopped”) from breaking a promise they made, even if there was not a contract.

This doctrine can have an interesting application in the field of employment law. If an employer promises an employee something, and the employee takes some action to his or her detriment in reliance on that promise, the employer may be held to the promise it made.

For instance, say an employer is trying to hire someone away from another employer. To get her to come on board the employer promises that the employees will be hired for at least two years. If the employee leaves her former employer in reliance on the promise of at least a two-year employment, and if that reliance is reasonable, the employer can be held legally liable if it breaks the promise, even though there was never a contract made.

Another example is when an employer promises an employee a raise and promotion if he transfers to a different city. If the employee uproots his family and moves across country in reliance on that promise, the employer risks a lawsuit for promissory estoppel if it doesn’t live up to what it told the employee about the raise and promotion.

We are often told to “get it in writing” when it comes to promises of future benefits. That’s good advice. But sometimes promises can be enforceable even if they are not made in written form, and even if they do no come in the form of a contract.

The $137 million judgment against car maker Tesla this week was one of the largest awards in a racial harassment case in U.S. history.   No doubt it has gained the attention of employers and employees alike.

A California federal jury ordered Tesla to pay Owen Diaz nearly $137 million dollars in damages for racial harassment, including $4.5 million for past emotional distress, $2.4 million for future emotional distress, and $130 million in punitive damages.

Diaz complained that he was subjected to persistent racial harassment including racial slurs. And he claimed that the harassing behavior continued even after he reported and complained about the conduct.

Tesla denies the harassing behavior and denies their responsibility for it, as Diaz was a contractor, not an employee.  The jury, however, found that Diaz was subjected to harassment, and that Tesla failed to sufficiently address it.  It is not clear if Tesla will appeal, or if they do if they will prevail.  Even if Tesla were to appeal and prevail, they would have spent years in very costly litigation.

What can employers do to protect their employees from harassment and themselves from lawsuits.

After seeing the headlines and reading about the Tesla case, employers may be asking themselves how they can insure their employees are safe from harassment and their company is protected from such a lawsuit.   Employers with the best of intentions can be vulnerable, and their employees can be vulnerable as well, if the right kind of policies, procedures, and training are not put in place.

Employers should:

  1. Have the right policies in place to prevent and address harassing behavior

Employers should have written policies that outline the types of behavior that will not be tolerated, a procedure for reporting any such behavior, how such behavior is to be investigated, and clear rules on the consequences of such behavior.

  1. Provide effective training for supervisors and employees on the policies

Even if an employer has solid policies in place, those policies cannot be effective if supervisors and employees are not aware of or do not understand the policies.   Periodic and clear training needs to be provided, so the policies can be followed and enforced.

  1. Enforce the policies

Employers need to be diligent in consistently enforcing their policies to make them effective.  If supervisors and employees see that policies are not being enforced, they may feel they don’t need to be followed and choose to ignore them.  And, if policies are enforced sometimes and not others, that in itself could create feelings and claims of unequal treatment and potentially harassment.

What should employees take from the Tesla Judgment?

The Tesla judgment sends a message to employees that:

  1. Juries may be taking a harder line against harassment

With its $130 million punitive damages award, the California jury sent the message that harassment will not be tolerated in the workplace and must stop or there will be dire consequences.  Punitive damages are on top of any actual damages and are meant to punish and send a message.   This message from the California jury is in line with our society’s increased focus over the last few years and months on issues of discrimination and harassment.  While the Tesla case was decided by a California jury, this could signal a shift toward harsher consequences from juries in harassment cases in other geographical areas as well.

  1. Employees should not be afraid to report harassment

Some employees may be afraid to report harassment because they do not want to seem like they are not a team player or because they are concerned the issue will not be addressed and they may be retaliated against.  The Tesla decision sends a message that employees should not tolerate harassment in the workplace, and that employers must take harassment seriously and have policies and procedures in place to investigate and stop the harassing behavior.  And, it send the message to employees that if the harassment is not dealt with effectively in the workplace, they can seek a remedy in the courtroom.

Effective policies, training and enforcement can help protect both employees and employers, and aid in maintaining a productive and harassment free workplace and avoiding lawsuits.

For legal assistance with workplace issues, contact our capable labor and employment law attorneys, including Steve Imm (513.943-5678) Matt Okiishi (513.943.6659) and Rebecca L. Simpson (513.797-2856).

On June 25, 2021, a panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit held unanimously for Jonathan Barger, represented by Steve Imm and Matt Okiishi of our Employment Law division, that his protest against his union allegedly overbilling for the work of its members was “protected speech” under the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act (“LMRDA”). The LMRDA guarantees, among other things, a union member’s freedom to “express any views, arguments, or opinions,” that touch on a matter of union concern. A copy of the decision in the case styled Jonathan Barger, et al v. United Brotherhood, et al is linked here.

In his Complaint, Mr. Barger alleged that he was subjected to union discipline when he reported time theft allegedly directed by the president of his local to his union brothers, as well as to a private employer. The union, within three days, allegedly retaliated by having Mr. Barger brought up on charges for causing “dissention” within the union. The District Court dismissed Barger’s case, stating that he was beyond the protections of the LMRDA because his motives in reporting the alleged theft were not purely disinterested. The District Court was also critical of Mr. Barger’s failure to publicize his allegations to the rest of his union brothers within the three-day gap following his allegations and preceding the union discipline. Finney Law Firm appealed on behalf of Mr. Barger

The federal Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the District Court decision, and found that Mr. Barger’s speech was protected under the LMRDA since it upheld the fundamental purpose of the LMRDA: to correct abuses of power and instances of corruption by union officials. The Court further declined to hold his failure to publicize the allegations against him, noting that doing so would create “perverse incentives” for unscrupulous unions to stamp out whistleblowing quickly before publication is possible. Lastly, the Court held that a union member’s motive does not determine whether his or her speech is “protected” or not.

Unlike many appeals court decisions, this victory was recommended by the Court for full publication, signifying that the Court views the case as one of great importance and significance.

Mr. Barger now looks forward to getting his much-deserved and hard-fought day in court.

As employers begin recalling their workers, the topic of mandatory vaccinations has seemingly taken center stage. Of course, employers have a duty to provide a safe working environment to their employees. However, employers also have a countervailing duty to engage in a good-faith interactive process to accommodate the disabilities or sincerely held religious beliefs of their employees.

There are certain persons who suffer from disabilities that do not permit them to be vaccinated. While the ADA permits employers to have a “qualification standard” that employees do not pose a direct threat to the health or safety of individuals in the workplace, if this standard tends to screen out disabled employees, the employer must show that there is a “significant risk of substantial harm to the health or safety of the individual or others that cannot be eliminated or reduced by reasonable accommodation.” In order to make this showing, the employer must first engage in a good-faith interactive process with the employee to accommodate the disability.  Because the use of teleworking became more prevalent during the pandemic, continued telework is likely to be considered a reasonable accommodation for office workers. On the factory floor, the continued use of masks may also serve as a reasonable accommodation under the ADA for these disabled workers.

Because Title VII protects workers from religious discrimination in the workplace, employers should also take care to properly address requests for religious accommodation made by employees who wish to decline the vaccine on the basis of a sincerely held religious belief. The accommodation process here is similar to the process followed under the ADA.

To better assess the risk that unvaccinated members of the workforce may pose in the workplace, an employer is permitted to ask its employees whether they have received the vaccine, as such a question is not considered a “disability-related inquiry.” However, employers should be wary of adopting this route, as the information gleaned must be stored in a file separate from the employee’s regular personnel file, and further inquiries into the reason for receiving or not receiving the vaccine may not be permitted.

The topic of employers requiring vaccines as a condition of employment presents numerous pitfalls. And as with most aspects of the law, navigating it will not be subject to a one-size-fits-all approach. Employers and employees should consult experienced legal counsel to be fully advised of their rights and obligations under the law. If you need assistance with these matters, feel free to consult Stephen E. Imm (513.943.5678) or Matthew S. Okiishi (513.943.6659).


In order to best serve our clients, the Finney Law Firm’s Employment Law team closely tracks proposed Ohio, Kentucky, and federal employment legislation. The Ohio General Assembly and Kentucky Legislature are currently debating small, yet significant, changes to their employment laws.


In Ohio, Senate Bill 47 would amend Ohio’s wage and hour statute, O.R.C. 4111.01, et seq., to incorporate the federal “Portal to Portal Act” into Ohio law. Should the bill pass, the proposed O.R.C. 4111.031 Ohio would explicitly eliminate employees from being compensated for time travelling to and from the place of performance, activities that are preliminary to or postliminary to the principal activities, and activities requiring insignificant or de minimis time. The rule would not apply where the activities are preformed either during the regular work day or during prescribed hours, or at the direction of the employer.

As S.B. 47 merely harmonizes Ohio law with the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, most Ohio employers should be unaffected by the changes. However, all employers should have a knowledgeable employment attorney review their policies and procedures for the handling of out of office work, especially in regards to emails. While a simple review of an email outside of work hours is likely de minimis time, an email requiring a substantive response or directing to an immediate task would likely not be exempt time under the proposed O.R.C 4111.031.


Kentucky is currently one of 26 states with laws that prohibit discriminating against smokers who otherwise comply with workplace rules. Senate Bill 258 would eliminate protections for smokers from K.R.S. 344.040, allowing employers to, among other things, require an employee or job applicant to abstain from smoking or using tobacco during or outside of the course of employment. Should the bill pass, Kentucky employers would be permitted to modify their handbook and hiring policies to exclude smokers and create a generally healthier work environment.


Please contact Stephen E. Imm (513.943.5678) of Matthew Okiishi (‭513.943.6659) for help with an employment law issue.

After years of lobbying from employers and defense counsel seeking to overhaul Ohio’s workplace discrimination laws, Governor DeWine signed House Bill 352 into law on January 12, 2021. The new law tips the scales in favor of employers in workplace discrimination cases. The changes will impact the way employment law attorneys practice and their clients pursue, or defend, workplace discrimination claims. Let’s take a look at some of the most significant changes to the law:

Limits Liability for Individual Supervisors

The new law excludes persons acting directly or indirectly in an employer’s interest from the definition of an “employer” under the Ohio Civil Rights Law. This change means that individual supervisors cannot be held personally liable for workplace discrimination claims if they were acting in the interest of an employer except in limited circumstances. Individual supervisors can be held personally liable if it is determined they acted outside of the scope of their employment, retaliated against the complainant, or obstructed the complainant from pursuing a claim with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission (OCRC).

Establishes a Specific Procedure for Employment Discrimination Claims

Under the current law, plaintiffs can file workplace discrimination claims with the OCRC or in a county court. The new law removes this choice and requires that an individual first file a charge with the OCRC before she may file a civil lawsuit. Once a charge is opened with the OCRC, the agency will begin an investigation. After sixty days, the complainant may request a notice of right to sue from the OCRC. After the complainant receives a notice of right to sue from the OCRC (or more than 45 days have passed without a response to the request) the complainant may file a civil lawsuit. An individual may also file a lawsuit if she obtains a notice of right to sue from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (the agency that enforces federal employment discrimination laws).

If the OCRC finds it probable that workplace discrimination has occurred, the complainant will have the choice of allowing the OCRC to prosecute the claim (including attempting to resolve the claim through alternative dispute resolution) or to withdraw from the administrative process and file a civil lawsuit in the county courts.

Statute of Limitations for Workplace Discrimination Claims

For most claims, the current law allows a person to bring a lawsuit alleging violation of the Ohio Civil Rights Law within six years after the alleged discriminatory act occurred. The new law requires a plaintiff to file suit based on workplace discrimination within two years. The statute of limitations is tolled while a charge based on the same allegations is pending with the OCRC.

Affirmative Defenses for Employers in Sexual Harassment Cases

The new law affords employers an affirmative defense to a claim for vicarious liability in which an employee alleges that a supervisor created a hostile work environment through sexually harassing behavior. In the typical sexual harassment case, an employee alleges that a specific boss or supervisor subjected the employee to a hostile work environment, and the employee seeks to hold both the supervisor and the company/employer liable. Under the new law, the employer can raise an affirmative defense to these claims if it can prove: (1) that it had an effective harassment policy; (2) that it properly educated employees about the policy and complaint procedures; (3) that it exercised reasonable care to prevent or promptly correct the harassing behavior; and (4) that the complainant failed to take advantage of any preventative or corrective opportunities. This is basically a re-statement of current federal law governing sexual harassment claims.

Age Discrimination Claims

Plaintiffs have previously pursued employment-based age discrimination claims through a variety of statutory mechanisms. The new law clarifies that age discrimination claims must be pursued through the same avenues in which all other workplace discrimination claims are pursued – i.e. – the process discussed above.


In order to pursue a workplace discrimination claim at the federal or state level, a plaintiff must have an understanding of the administrative procedures required by the EEOC and the OCRC. An individual subjected to workplace discrimination risks losing her claim if she fails to timely pursue an action or fails to adhere to the administrative procedures required to lodge a claim. The Finney Law Firm has experienced employment attorneys dedicated to protecting the rights of employers and employees in the workplace. We can help you navigate these claims at both the federal and state level.



For more information on this new statute, contact Brad Gibson (513.643.6661).  Read more about our Employment Law practice here.

Those of us old enough to remember the Watergate scandal from the early 1970s will remember that what brought down Richard Nixon’s presidency was not the burglary of the Democratic National Headquarters in the Watergate Hotel, but rather the cover-up that followed the burglary. A similar principle can be seen in employment law. Often, it is not original act of alleged discrimination or harassment that brings down an employer, but rather a subsequent act of retaliation the employer engages in against the employee who accuses it of discrimination or harassment.

Let’s say you are an employer, and one of your employees claims that they are being paid less than their co-workers because of their sex or race. You, as the employer, happen to know that is not true. You have legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons for paying this particular worker less. Perhaps he is less productive than his co-workers, or perhaps he has less experience. Nevertheless, you find yourself being falsely accused of race or sex discrimination.

You understandably are angry, right? You have been falsely accused of a really bad act. Essentially, you have been accused of being a racist or sexist. Can’t you fire the employee who has made this false accusation against you?

No, you can’t. At least not legally.

Retaliation is a normal human response. That is why it happens so often. When any of us is attacked, regardless of whether the attack is physical or verbal or otherwise, our immediate impulse is to retaliate. It is almost a reflex. We instinctively act to defend ourselves from the attacker. That is why retaliation claims are so common, and why they get so many employers into trouble. When we retaliate, we are just doing what comes naturally.

Despite retaliation being a normal and natural human response, in this context the law says the employer CANNOT legally do it. As long as the employee has a reasonable belief that his allegation is true – even if he turns out to be completely wrong – the employer is prohibited from retaliating against him in any form for making the accusation. This principle not only applies when the accusation is made as part of a formal legal action, such as filing a charge with a government agency, but also when an accusation is made informally, such as in a conversation with a supervisor or human resources employee.

The prohibition against retaliation is very broad. Prohibited retaliation includes not just obvious actions like firing the employee, but also more subtle actions, such as harassment, excluding the employee from opportunities for overtime, or denying the employee a promotion.

If you have questions about your rights as an employer or an employee when it comes to retaliation, it is wise to seek the advice of an experienced employment attorney before you act. Just remember what happened to Richard Nixon!