youngstown Court sides with city worker

By Peter H. Milliken


The Ohio Supreme Court ruled 6-1 in favor of a former Youngstown Street Department laborer, who said the city fired him in retaliation for his having filed three workers’ compensation claims.

In its ruling late last week, the top court sent the case of Keith Lawrence, who was suspended from his city job Jan. 7, 2007, and fired two days later, back to the 7th District Court of Appeals in Youngstown for further proceedings.

Lawrence notified the city in writing April 17, 2007, that he’d be filing a retaliation claim, and he filed his retaliation lawsuit against the city July 6, 2007, in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court.

That court and the 7th District Court upheld the city’s assertion that Lawrence’s claim should be rejected as untimely because he didn’t send his letter notifying the city of his intent to sue within 90 days of his Jan. 9 termination date as required by state law.

Lawrence said, however, his notification to the city was timely because he didn’t learn of his discharge until Feb. 19, 2007.

“There is no indication that the city sent a certified latter [of discharge] to Lawrence. Thus, the city did not definitively demonstrate reasonably prompt notification,” the top-court majority ruled in a decision written by Justice Robert R. Cupp.

“Reasonably prompt notice of a discharge to an employee ... does not burden employers and is not unreasonable,” Justice Cupp wrote.

“A reasonably diligent employee should be able to discover an adverse employment action” and meet the 90-day notification deadline after the date of his discharge, wrote the dissenting Justice Terrence O’Donnell.

“We ought not legislate. Our role is simply to interpret and decide,” Justice O’Donnell added.

Lawrence is represented by Atty. Martin S. Hume of Youngstown.

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