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In the Trenches – Recent Decisions of the Civil Rights Section

The Civil Rights Section is on the front lines of civil rights litigation in courts and administrative forums throughout the state. In Cox v. Dayton Pub. Schools Bd. Of Edn., 2019-Ohio-2591, the Second District Court of Appeals reaffirmed the Ohio Civil Rights Commission’s discretion not to issue a complaint when it is not in the State’s best interests. In Newman v. Ohio Civil Rights Commission, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 183935, the section found itself in federal court successfully defending the Commission’s employees and the Attorney General’s Office who represents them from a 42 U.S.C. 1983 action. In the Commission’s Grigsby v. Ratliff, (June 13, 2018) Report and Recommendation, the section was in the administrative forum defending the rights of a child who was suffering from PTSD to live with his emotional support animal.

In Cox, a teacher was fired for assaulting a functionally-impaired student in 2013. In 2017 the school district argued in its brief that the issue of her reinstatement was moot because her teaching license had been permanently revoked, therefore they could not rehire her. The teacher filed a charge with the Commission alleging that her employer’s legal argument was discriminatorily motivated.

The Commission determined that it lacked jurisdiction because no adverse employment action had occurred within six months of the filing of her charge, a jurisdictional prerequisite. See Ohio Revised Code Section 4112.05(B)(1). Cox appealed and the Second District affirmed the Commission’s determination that she was not subject to a new harm that occurred within six months from the date of her charge. The court also affirmed that the appropriate standard of judicial review of a decision by the Commission not to issue a complaint is whether the decision is unlawful, irrational, and/or arbitrary and capricious.        

In Newman, an adjunct business and law professor’s contract was not renewed by the University of Dayton, and he was barred from the University’s law library. The Commission issued a no probable cause determination, and the professor filed a complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. 1983 against 11 Commission employees and 1 assistant attorney general.

The court dismissed the complaint after determining that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction and held that, pursuant to statute, the court of common pleas has exclusive jurisdiction to review the Commission’s investigation and determination. See Ohio Revised Code Section 4112.06. The court also held that all the defendants were entitled to absolute immunity as administrative officers acting in quasi-judicial or quasi-prosecutorial roles in deciding whether to issue a complaint. This case has been appealed.

In Grigsby, a landlord had a no pet policy and refused to allow a family to rent a home because the son suffered from PTSD and needed an animal assistant. The son’s disability and need for the assistance animal were supported by medical documentation.

The Commission held that the landlord’s actions violated O.R.C. 4112.02(H)(1) and (19). Ohio Revised Code makes it illegal to refuse to rent because of a disability and makes it illegal to refuse to modify a policy when a disabled person needs it to rent an apartment. The Commission ordered the landlord to stop discriminating, pay the family damages, and attend training.

Stay tuned for the next issue of the Civil Rights Reporter for more news from the Civil Rights Front Lines.