Ohio Court Acknowledges that Supervisor can be Individually Liable, but Affirms Summary Judgment

On April 30, 2010, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its decision in Butler v. Cooper Standard Automotive, Inc., Case No. 09-3349, affirming summary judgment in favor of the plaintiff’s former supervisor.

The plaintiff, Jimmie Butler, filed suit against both his former employer and former supervisor alleging race discrimination, hostile work environment and retaliation in violation of state and federal law. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the named defendants finding that the plaintiff could not show that his employer’s legitimate reasons for his termination were merely pretext for discrimination and that there was no allegation of discrimination severe and pervasive enough to create a hostile work environment.

Because the employer had filed for bankruptcy protection, the Court of Appeals only addressed whether summary judgment was appropriate as to Butler’s supervisor, Timothy Barnhisel. Citing an earlier Ohio Supreme Court case, the Court of Appeals first acknowledged that a supervisor may be held jointly and/or severally liable with his or her employer for discriminatory conduct of the supervisor in violation of Ohio Revised Code Chapter 4112. This rule is in contrast with federal case law, which provides that an individual cannot be liable for violations of Title VII. Wathen v. General Electric Co. (C.A.6 1997), 115 F.3d 400.

The Court of Appeals concluded that the plaintiff had not created a question of fact as to whether his termination was the product of his supervisor’s discriminatory conduct. The Court noted that Mr. Barnhisel was not involved in the incident leading to the termination of Butler’s employment. The Court also found that there was insufficient evidence that Mr. Barnhisel unlawfully discriminated against Mr. Butler in assigning work in an effort to get him fired.


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