Turnabout is fair play: Employers may be able to sue for frivolous lawsuits

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Employment Law,Human Resources

In an interesting Supreme Court of Ohio case, the high court has ruled that a lawsuit by an employer against an employee who filed an employment discrimination lawsuit against it is not automatically retaliation. The court’s decision overturned a long-held view of the Ohio Civil Rights Commission (OCRC).

The decision means an employer can, in the right case, sue an employee who filed a meritless lawsuit.

Recent case: Tammy Greer-Burger filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against her employer, Lazlo Temesi. A jury decided in favor of Temesi.

Temesi then sued Greer-Burger for abuse of process, malicious prosecution and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Then Greer-Burger’s attorney filed a complaint with the OCRC, claiming the lawsuit was retaliation for the original sexual harassment lawsuit. The OCRC issued a cease and desist order, stopping the lawsuit from going forward. It based its decision on the idea that Temesi’s lawsuit was per se (or automatic) retaliation.

Temesi appealed to the Supreme Court of Ohio, which reversed the per se retaliation finding. It concluded that an employer should have a chance to show that its lawsuit isn’t baseless, but is a legitimate use of the legal process. The high court wrote, “An employee’s right to pursue a discrimination claim without fear of reprisal is a laudable goal entitled to considerable weight. The OCRC’s position in this case, however, had the potential to give employees a carte blanche right to file malicious, defamatory and otherwise false claims.” (Greer-Burger v. Temesi, No. 2006-1616, Supreme Court of Ohio, 2007)

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