Thursday, August 25, 2016

Changes to Public Records Laws Take Effect Sept. 28

Under Ohio's Public Records Law, any Ohioan may request copies of public records from a public office.  If a proper request for records is denied, the citizen can petition a court to order the release of the records.

However, new legislation passed by the General Assembly - the first of its kind in the country - now gives Ohioans a more streamlined and cost-effective way to obtain these records in case of a denial.

From the Columbus Dispatch:

On Sept. 28, the Ohio Court of Claims will begin accepting complaints on the refusal to release records by government at all levels, from townships to the state.

The law, the product of legislation from Senate President Keith Faber, R-Celina, will send complaints to a mediator who will work with citizens and government officials in an attempt to reach a resolution.

If no agreement is reached, a special master will rule within seven days whether government was legally correct in denying a records request or broke the law and must hand over the records.

In order to file an appeal, a citizen must file a complaint form and copies of the records requests and governmental denials, along with a filing fee of $25, with the county court of common pleas. 

The 2016 Ohio Sunshine Laws Manual, published by the Public Records unit of the Ohio Attorney General's office, provides an excellent overview of Ohio's public records laws.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Faith-Based Discrimination in Hiring

Can a faith-based organization refuse to hire employees who do not share its faith?

Section 702 of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (42 U.S.C.S. § 2000e) exempts religious organizations from the prohibition against discrimination in employment on the basis of religion. (Ohio has a similar statute.) Therefore, if an organization is religious for purposes of the statute, it can restrict employment to those of a certain religion in order to carry out its activities.

In order to qualify for the exemption, the organization must be primarily religious.  The definition is not included in the statute but has been explored by the courts.  For example, a 2010 federal case involving the relief and development organization World Vision examined if the organization is 1) organized for a self-identified religious purpose; 2) engaged in activity that is consistent with and furthers that purpose; and 3) holding itself out to the public as religious.

This exemption also extends to permit a religious organization to discriminate in hiring for its nonprofit secular activities, even if the employment is not primarily religious.  For example, in 1987, the Supreme Court ruled that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints were permitted to terminate a non-Mormon employee of a nonprofit gymnasium which it controlled.

Religious organizations should be sure that all documents (from employment agreements to corporate articles) consistently reflect the organization's nature as religious and emphasize that all its activities are designed to further the organization's purpose.

More information regarding religious discrimination in the workplace is available from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.