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Ohio: State Law Does Not Protect Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination

By Susan R. Heylman  4/28/2014
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The term “sex,” as used in Ohio’s anti-discrimination statute, does not include sexual orientation, an Ohio appellate court ruled. 

The decision came in a lawsuit brought by a veterinary school resident at the Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine against an associate professor. The resident alleged that the professor began treating her differently than other students upon learning that she was a lesbian by excluding her from student social and research activities and making vulgar and sexual comments and jokes about her. She further alleged that the professor contacted or communicated with prospective employers, resulting in the cancellation of job interviews, and that he refused to provide her a reference to a potential employer.

Her claims of sex discrimination, sexual harassment, retaliation, and violation of public policy were dismissed by the court of claims as insufficient as a matter of law.

Before the court of appeals, the resident argued that the word sex in the anti-discrimination statute was not limited to gender and also protected against discrimination based on sexual orientation. She contended that the word “sex” as used in the statute should be extended to protect against discrimination based on sexual orientation.

On review, the court of appeals commented that the factual assertions of the complaint, if taken as true, amounted to repugnant conduct, but it ruled that the conduct was not actionable as discrimination because of sex under Ohio law.

“We cannot conclude that the term “sex” under Ohio Rev. Code § 4112.02(A) encompasses sexual orientation,” the court said.

The court also ruled that the resident did not demonstrate that a clear public policy against harassment or discipline based on sexual orientation existed at the state level to support her claim of a violation of public policy.  

Although the resident had argued for a change in the law so that sexual orientation was protected, the court said that it was the responsibility of the legislature to take such action.

“Legislative measures proposing to amend R.C. Chapter 4112 and Title VII to add the term sexual orientation have been, as yet, unsuccessful,” the court noted. “This claim and this court are not the forum for achieving the change that appellant seeks.”

Burns v. Ohio State Univ. Coll. of Veterinary Med., Ohio Ct. App., No. 13AP-633 (March 25, 2014).

Susan R. Heylman, J.D., is a freelance legal writer and editor based in the Washington, D.C., area.

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