Elek v. Huntington Natl. Bank

Decision Date12 June 1991
Docket NumberNo. 89-1812,89-1812
Citation60 Ohio St.3d 135,573 N.E.2d 1056
Parties, 56 Fair Empl.Prac.Cas. (BNA) 327, 57 Empl. Prac. Dec. P 40,922 ELEK, Appellee, v. HUNTINGTON NATIONAL BANK, Appellant.
CourtOhio Supreme Court

Syllabus by the Court

1. An aggrieved party may, pursuant to R.C. 4112.99, institute an independent civil action to seek redress for discrimination on the basis of physical disability.

2. State courts possess concurrent jurisdiction with federal courts to entertain discrimination claims brought pursuant to Section 794a, Title 29, U.S.Code.

On February 17, 1987, plaintiff-appellee, Louis Elek, commenced employment with defendant-appellant, Huntington National Bank. Appellee was subsequently discharged from his employment on March 15, 1988. On May 2, 1988, appellee instituted the present action in the Franklin County Common Pleas Court alleging handicap discrimination in violation of R.C. 4112.02(A), 4112.02(J) and Section 794a, Title 29, U.S.Code. Appellee sought compensatory and punitive damages, attorney fees and costs. On July 26, 1988, appellant filed a motion to dismiss the complaint upon the basis that appellee had failed to exhaust his administrative remedies. On December 8, 1988, the common pleas court granted the motion to dismiss the complaint--concluding that the jurisdiction of the courts is limited to judicial review of the decisions of the Ohio Civil Rights Commission pursuant to R.C. 4112.06(A). On August 24, 1989, the court of appeals reversed the decision of the common pleas court.

The cause is now before this court pursuant to the allowance of a motion to certify the record.

Bates & Mong and James F. Mong; and Frederick M. Gittes, Westerville, and Frederick M. Gittes, Columbus, for appellee.

Porter, Wright, Morris & Arthur, Richard M. Markus, John M. Stephen, Bradd N. Siegel, Kevin E. Griffith and Larry D. Case, Columbus, for appellant.

Spater, Gittes, Schulte & Kolman and Frederick M. Gittes, Columbus, urging affirmance for amici curiae, Ohio Chapter of the Nat. Organization for Women, N.A.A.C.P., Committee Against Sexual Harassment, Nat. Ass'n of the Physically Handicapped, Courage, Inc., Nat. Employment Lawyers Ass'n and Nat. Lawyers Guild.

Louis A. Jacobs, Columbus, urging affirmance for amicus curiae, State Representative Vernon L. Sykes.

Arter & Hadden, John B. Lewis, Gregory V. Mersol and Margaret H. Joyce, Cleveland, urging reversal for amicus curiae, Ohio Ass'n of Civil Trial Attys.

Baker & Hostetler, Robert F. Howarth and Jean M. Frazier, Columbus, urging reversal for amici curiae, Ohio Chamber of Commerce, Ohio Bankers Ass'n, Ohio Restaurant Ass'n, Gibson Greetings, Inc., Printing Industry of Ohio and Mid America Legal Foundation.

McCutchan, Druen, Maynard, Rath & Dietrich, David L. Maynard and David L. White, Columbus, urging reversal for amicus curiae, Nationwide Mut. Ins. Co.

Taft, Stettinius & Hollister, J. Alan Lips and Doreen Canton, Cincinnati, urging reversal for amicus curiae, Ohio Cas. Ins. Co.

Taft, Stettinius & Hollister, Robert J. Townsend and Brian P. Gillan, Cincinnati, urging reversal for amicus curiae, Greater Cincinnati Employers Institute.

Vorys, Sater, Seymour & Pease, Lester S. Lash and James P. Friedt, Columbus, urging reversal for amicus curiae, Ohio Mfrs' Ass'n.

SWEENEY, Justice.

I

In his complaint, appellee alleges, inter alia, that appellant has engaged in discriminatory practices in violation of R.C. 4112.02(A). This subsection provides:

"It shall be an unlawful discriminatory practice: For any employer, because of the race, color, religion, sex, national origin, handicap, age, or ancestry of any person, to discharge without just cause, to refuse to hire, or otherwise to discriminate against that person with respect to hire, tenure, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, or any matter directly or indirectly related to employment." (Emphasis added.)

The complaint was filed as an original action in the Franklin County Common Pleas Court and brought pursuant to R.C. 4112.99. This section provides:

"Whoever violates this chapter is subject to a civil action for damages, injunctive relief, or any other appropriate relief." (Emphasis added.)

A plain reading of this section yields the unmistakable conclusion that a civil action is available to remedy any form of discrimination identified in R.C. Chapter 4112. Appellant nevertheless maintains that R.C. 4112.99 merely recapitulates the specific civil remedies available under R.C. 4112.02(N) (age discrimination), R.C. 4112.021(D) (discrimination in affording credit) and R.C. 4112.051(A) (housing discrimination). It is therefore the contention of appellant that to interpret R.C. 4112.99 as affording a general right to a civil action in remedying all forms of discrimination would create potential conflict between R.C. 4112.99 and the specific requirements of the aforementioned sections or, at minimum, produce a redundancy between them. Appellant further maintains that had the General Assembly intended to create an independent civil action it would have done so in the same detail that it employed in the other sections.

These arguments are erroneous in numerous respects. As an initial matter, the clear and unambiguous language of the statute provides that a civil action for damages or injunctive relief is afforded by R.C. 4112.99 as an available remedy. Moreover, the section specifically states that the civil action is available to remedy any violation of this chapter (i.e., R.C. Chapter 4112). Had the General Assembly meant to limit the availability of the civil action remedy to those instances in R.C. Chapter 4112 where it was already provided, it would have identified the section to which R.C. 4112.99 applied (i.e., R.C. 4112.051[A] 4112.02[N] and 4112.021[D] ). Instead its language applies to any form of discrimination addressed by R.C. Chapter 4112.

If this intent were not clear enough from the language employed in R.C. 4112.99, resort to R.C. 1.23(A) removes all doubt. This latter section provides:

"Wherever in a penalty section reference is made to a violation of a series of sections, or of divisions or subdivisions of a section, such reference shall be construed to mean a violation of any section, division, or subdivision included in such reference."

The General Assembly was unquestionably aware of the above-referenced provision. Had it desired to provide resort to a civil action in the situations urged by appellant, it certainly would have, pursuant to R.C. 1.23(A), identified the specific subsections to which R.C. 4112.99 was to apply.

Appellant and some of the amici in support also contend that interpreting R.C. 4112.99 in the fashion employed by the appellate court creates a redundancy. As an initial response, such a result is not fatal to application of its terms as written. See R.C. 1.47 (rule of statutory construction specifically directs courts to give effect to an entire statute). Secondly, the supposed redundancy does not exist in the case at bar because no other section of R.C. Chapter 4112 confers upon an alleged victim of handicap discrimination the right to pursue a civil action. Thus, there can be no conflict between R.C. 4112.99 and the provisions of a more specific subsection. In those instances where such alleged conflict may be presented, existing rules of statutory construction are available to address them (see, e.g., R.C. 1.51 [special provision normally prevails over general provision]; R.C. 1.52[A] [later enacted statute prevails over earlier one] ).

Finally, R.C. Title 41 currently contains overlapping sections. While appellant contends that R.C. 4112.99 as interpreted by the appellate court would create a redundancy by providing for multiple avenues of relief for certain types of discrimination, in the area of age discrimination there already exists a redundancy between R.C. 4112.02(N) and 4101.17.

Moreover, were R.C. 4112.99 ambiguous (which it is not), it is beyond question that R.C. Chapter 4112 is remedial. See Helmick v. Cincinnati Word Processing, Inc. (1989), 45 Ohio St.3d 131, 135, 543 N.E.2d 1212, 1216. Accordingly, R.C. 4112.99 is to be liberally construed to promote its object (elimination of discrimination) and protect those to whom it is addressed (victims of discrimination). See R.C. 4112.08; R.C. 1.11. As such, R.C. 4112.99 must be interpreted to afford victims of handicap discrimination the right to pursue a civil action. Such an interpretation of R.C. 4112.99 was recently recognized by this court in Hoops v. United Tel. Co. of Ohio (1990), 50 Ohio St.3d 97, 102, 553 N.E.2d 252, 257, wherein it was observed:

"The language of R.C. 4112.02(N) and 4112.99 shows that when the legislature wants to provide legal relief (and hence a right to a jury) in addition to equitable relief, it uses specific language to do so. This language contrasts with that of 4101.17, the section applicable here."

The view that the civil action remedy provided by R.C. 4112.99 applies to the entire chapter is further supported by resort to the Legislative Service Commission Analysis of Am.H.B. No. 5, the legislation amending R.C. 4112.99. The analysis states in relevant part:

"Under existing law, a violation of certain civil rights statutes (divisions (A) to (H) of Section 4112.02, and sections 4112.07 and 4112.11) constitutes a misdemeanor of the third degree. The bill will remove the criminal penalty for any such violation, and provide instead that anyone who violates any provision of the Civil Rights Commission Law (Chapter 4112) would be subject to a civil action for damages, injunctive relief, or other appropriate relief (proposed section 4112.99)." (Emphasis added.) 1987 Baldwin's Ohio Legislative Service, at 5-77.

The Legislative Service Commission analysis also undermines appellant's argument that the amendment of R.C. 4112.99 merely served to remove prior criminal penalties. The previous language...

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