Morris v. Kaiser Engineers, Inc., 84-271

Citation471 N.E.2d 471,14 Ohio St.3d 45,14 OBR 440
Decision Date05 December 1984
Docket NumberNo. 84-271,84-271
Parties, 36 Fair Empl.Prac.Cas. (BNA) 807, 37 Empl. Prac. Dec. P 35,307, 14 O.B.R. 440 MORRIS, Appellee, v. KAISER ENGINEERS, INC. et al.; Cleveland Electric Illuminating Company, Appellant.
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Ohio

Syllabus by the Court

1. A claimant who has previously filed an age discrimination action under R.C. 4101.17 is not barred from filing a claim with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission pursuant to R.C. 4112.05 in order to satisfy the mandatory prerequisite to an action under the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act.

2. The statute of limitations applicable to an action for age discrimination in employment pursuant to R.C. 4101.17 is the six-year period contained in R.C. 2305.07.

The present action was initiated on June 18, 1982 by plaintiff-appellee, Almeta Morris, against Kaiser Engineers, Inc. ("Kaiser"), her past employer; Raymond International, Inc. ("Raymond"), parent corporation of Kaiser; and Cleveland Electric Illuminating Company ("CEI"), employer of Kaiser. Morris alleged that her employment had been terminated without just cause on March 20, 1981, in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, Section 621 et seq., Title 29, U.S.Code ("ADEA"), and R.C. 4101.17, both of which prohibit discrimination on the basis of age in the hiring and firing of employees.

CEI, Kaiser and Raymond all moved to dismiss the complaint. The trial court granted these motions with regard to the cause of action based upon ADEA and further dismissed the claim for relief based upon R.C. 4101.17 with regard to CEI and Kaiser. On appeal, the court of appeals reversed and remanded.

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

Zidar & Gallup, David B. Gallup and Mona B. Rubinstein, Cleveland, for appellee.

Squire, Sanders & Dempsey, Thomas H. Barnard, Ronald J. James, Brenda J. Clark and Michael S. Goldstein, Cleveland, for appellant.

WILLIAM B. BROWN, Justice.

The first issue presented by this case is whether Morris is precluded from filing a complaint under R.C. 4112.05, when she has already initiated an action pursuant to R.C. 4101.17, in order to comply with the mandatory prerequisite of the ADEA. Additionally, this court must determine the appropriate limitations period to be applied to R.C. 4101.17 age discrimination actions. For the reasons which follow, this court concludes that Morris is not precluded from filing her complaint with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission and that R.C. 2305.07 prescribes the correct statutory limitations period (six years) in actions arising under R.C. 4101.17.

It is firmly established that, in states having agencies empowered to remedy age discrimination in employment, a complainant must file a charge with the appropriate state agency before commencing an ADEA action. Section 633, Title 29, U.S.Code; Oscar Mayer & Co. v. Evans (1979), 441 U.S. 750, 99 S.Ct. 2066, 60 L.Ed.2d 609. The state filing is a mandatory prerequisite to the ADEA action. Id. It is undisputed that Morris did not file her complaint with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission ("OCRC") before bringing the present suit. CEI now contends that this failure deprives the court of subject matter jurisdiction of Morris' ADEA claim. CEI further argues that, by commencing the present action pursuant to R.C. 4101.17, Morris is now barred from filing a charge with the OCRC.

Initially, it should be noted that Morris is not prevented from filing her claim with the OCRC by the six-month limitations period found in R.C. 4112.05(B). The United States Supreme Court laid that question to rest in Oscar Mayer & Co., supra, when it held that Section 14(b) of the ADEA requires only that state proceedings be commenced, and that those proceedings need not be commenced within time limits specified by state law.

The Ohio statutory scheme concerning discrimination is somewhat unusual. Three sections of the Revised Code provide remedies for age-based employment discrimination. R.C. 4101.17 is addressed solely to age discrimination and allows an aggrieved employee to institute a civil action in any court of competent jurisdiction. R.C. 4112.02 is a more inclusive anti-discrimination statute and also provides a private cause of action for age discrimination. Finally, R.C. 4112.05 allows an individual to enforce those rights created by R.C. 4112.02 administratively rather than judicially by filing a charge with the OCRC. Each of these avenues of relief provides that it is exclusive and, that once an action is instituted thereunder, a plaintiff is barred from bringing an action under either of the other two provisions. Thus, Ohio's statutory scheme requires an election from among these remedies.

CEI correctly points out that the language of R.C. 4101.17 is clear and unambiguous in its prohibition of a subsequent OCRC filing. However, this bar controls only state and not federal causes of action. The language of the ADEA is clear that, for purposes of commencing a state proceeding under the ADEA,all a plaintiff is required to do is present the state agency with a written and signed statement describing his claim of discrimination. Section 14(b) of the ADEA, Section 633(b), Title 29, U.S.Code, provides:

" * * * If any requirement for the commencement of such proceedings is imposed by a State authority other than a requirement of the filing of a written and signed statement of the facts upon which the proceeding is based, the proceeding shall be deemed to have been commenced for the purposes of this subsection at the time such statement is sent by registered mail to the appropriate State authority."

Additionally, while the Oscar Mayer decision dealt specifically with a state statute of limitations, the thrust of the opinion was broad enough to encompass the present issue. The United States Supreme Court stated that no other obligation is placed upon the ADEA grievant besides commencement. Oscar Mayer & Co., supra, at 759, 99 S.Ct. at 2073. Moreover, " * * * state procedural defaults cannot foreclose federal relief * * *." Id. at 762, 99 S.Ct. at 2074. "Congress did not intend to foreclose federal relief simply because state relief was also foreclosed." Id. at 761, 99 S.Ct. at 2074.

From this, it is clear that the goal of the court in Oscar Mayer was to preserve the ADEA action and protect it from failure on the basis of state law. Any other result would essentially prevent Ohio plaintiffs from joining claims under the ADEA with either of the judicial remedies provided by the Revised Code. Krenning v. Darling & Co. (S.D.Ohio 1983), 572 F.Supp. 923, 924. Therefore, this court holds that a claimant who has previously filed an age discrimination action under R.C. 4101.17 is not barred from filing a claim with the OCRC pursuant to R.C. 4112.05 in order to satisfy the mandatory prerequisite to an action under the ADEA.

CEI also contends that Morris' action under R.C. 4101.17 is time barred. Since...

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