Ohio Supreme Court to Review Entitlement to Leave Regardless of Length of Employment

The Ohio Civil Rights Commission (“OCRC”) and the Ohio Fifth District Court of Appeals take the position that it is unlawful under Ohio law to terminate employees who are temporarily disabled due to pregnancy and childbirth because they do not meet the employer’s minimum service requirement for taking leave. On July 29, 2009, the Ohio Supreme Court accepted review of the Fifth District’s decision in Nursing Care Management of America, Inc. v. Ohio Civil Rights Commission, to review this interpretation of Ohio law.

In this case, the Plaintiff employee required medical leave due to pregnancy, but she had not worked twelve months preceding the need for leave in order to qualify for leave under the employer’s policy. The employee was terminated when, after eight-months of employment, she required medical leave due to her pregnancy.

The appellate court upheld the OCRC’s interpretation of Ohio law as requiring maternity leave for a “reasonable period of time”, regardless of length-of-service policies. The employer argued that Ohio law allows employers to place a length-of-service requirement on leave time provided to pregnant employees, as long as that length-of-service requirement is evenly applied. In upholding its interpretation of the law, the court was not persuaded by the fact that male employees could be terminated on account of medical conditions if they had not met the minimum 12-month service requirement, while pregnant employees would be entitled to maternity leave.

In addressing the employer’s argument that preferential treatment was not permitted, the court found that the OCRC’s interpretation of Ohio’s law “ensures that a female employee is not put in a position of choosing between her job and the continuation of her pregnancy, a dilemma that would never face a male employee in the first year of employment...”

The Family and Medical Leave Act provides a 12-month length-of-service requirement to be eligible for leave under its provisions. However, the OCRC and the Fifth District interpret Ohio law as requiring that pregnant employees be provided leave for a “reasonable period of time”, regardless of length of service. The Ohio Supreme Court’s review of this issue will thus provide necessary guidance in light of these outstanding interpretations of Ohio law.

Author: Gina Kuhlman

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