A much-needed Bill to protect victims of workplace rape and sexual assault was recently introduced in the Ohio House of Representatives. The Bill would remove an arbitrary and discriminatory limit on damages and allow victims to receive a fair recovery for their injuries. All Ohioans who care about the rights of victims of sexual violence and sexual harassment, or our civil jury system, should support the Bill.
In 2005, the Ohio Legislature imposed various damage caps in medical malpractice cases. Among them was a cap on recovery for pain and suffering. While similar caps previously passed by the Legislature had been ruled unconstitutional, in 2007, the Ohio Supreme Court upheld the caps. Although there is significant dispute whether the Legislature intended to do so, several years ago, the Court of Appeals in Cuyahoga County held that the caps apply to employment discrimination cases too.
Because of the caps, sexual harassment victims in Cuyahoga County generally cannot recover more than a maximum of $250,000 for pain and suffering. This limitation applies even in the most egregious cases, such as those involving workplace rapes and sexual assaults. While the limitation rises to $350,000 in certain cases where the victim has also suffered significant wage loss, a victim of workplace rape or physical assault in Cuyahoga County can never recover more than that for pain and suffering under Ohio employment law.
The limitation on pain and suffering damages for sexual assault victims is bad public policy for several reasons. First, the limitation imposed by the Legislature bears no relation to the actual damages victims suffer. To put it as succinctly as I can, sexual assault typically devastates the victims, who suffer from invisible scars that take years and years to heal, if they ever do. Second, the cap discriminates against women, who are undoubtedly the victims of the majority of workplace sexual assaults and sexual harassment. And third, the cap assumes that citizens who sit on juries are simply incapable of making rational decisions about appropriate damages. There is no basis to make that assumption, as we trust civil juries to render decisions with life-altering consequences in most every other type of legal case, civil and criminal alike.
In response to the problems posed by the pain and suffering cap, on March 18th, Representative Connie Pillich and thirty-eight co-sponsors in the Ohio House of Representatives introduced H.B. 495. If enacted, the Bill would remove the limitation on pain and suffering damages for victims of workplace rape or assault. Instead of the Ohio Legislature dictating how much a victim has been damaged, the Bill would return that authority where it belongs: to citizen juries.
I urge you to contact your State Representative about the Bill. Tell your Representative that you support H.B. 495 because you do not believe Ohio should discriminate against victims of workplace sexual harassment and assault, or take away the right of juries to decide what recovery is fair in sexual assault cases.