The Employer's Legal Resource: Oklahoma Discrimination Law Developments and the Demise of the OHRC
Oklahoma continues to debate its laws prohibiting employment discrimination.
A recap of 2011:
During the 2011 session, the Oklahoma Legislature passed major changes to the OADA effective November 1, 2011. The 2011 Legislature did away with Burk public policy tort claims that target status-based employment discrimination (i.e., discrimination on the basis of one's status-race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, etc.). It also made the administrative remedies under the Oklahoma Anti-Discrimination Act (OADA) exclusive. Those changes benefited employers, since Burk torts exposed employers to uncapped damages. The 2011 amendments limited a plaintiff's remedies to back pay, an "additional amount of liquidated damages" (an amount up to the amount of back pay), and made recovery of attorney fees available to prevailing employers.
And now, 2012:
In a related move, the Legislature passed a law that disbands the Oklahoma Human Rights Commission (OHRC) effective June 30, 2012, and transfers the OHRC's functions to the newly created Office of Civil Rights Enforcement under the supervision of the Oklahoma Attorney General (OAG).
The 2012 Oklahoma Legislature was considering amendments to the OADA via Senate Bill 1728. Several of the proposed changes favored employers. Others related to the impending June 30 demise of the OHRC and the July 1 birth of the Office of Civil Rights Enforcement within the OAG's Office. That legislation passed the Senate, but stalled in the House. While we had expected some action, the Legislature adjourned May 25 without the House passing SB 1728.
We will keep you apprised as to what new bills are introduced in the next legislative session.
A cautionary note for small employers:
Small employers must be aware of the fact they are subject to liability for discrimination claims. Under Oklahoma law, all employers are covered by the OADA, regardless of the number of employees.
Suggested next steps:
Employers should continue to implement strong, proactive, best risk management prevention practices. For more information and assistance with best prevention practices, consider attending DSDA's "Best Employer Defense Training Series 2012." See details on upcoming sessions below. Stay tuned for further developments.
By Chris S. Thrutchley, firstname.lastname@example.org