Q&A with Leonard Court
Anti-Discrimination Act ruling
is favorable to state employers
Q: Explain the Oklahoma Supreme Court’s recent ruling on the Oklahoma Anti-Discrimination Act.
A: The Oklahoma Supreme Court late last month handed down a major victory for the business community concerning recent legislative changes to Oklahoma’s Anti-Discrimination Act (OADA). The court unanimously upheld the damages provisions contained within the OADA, refusing to strike down these provisions as unconstitutional. The new provisions limit damages to back pay, reinstatement, liquidated damages and attorneys fees.
Q: What were the facts of the case?
A: The plaintiff, Guindelee MacDonald, filed suit against Integris Health Inc. in August 2012, alleging that she had been discriminated against on the basis of her age (56 at time of dismissal) and gender when her employment was terminated by the defendant. She alleged that she was owed the former full range of tort damages available to her on her state law claims of discrimination under the OADA, including punitive damages and emotional distress damages, because the OADA amendment concerning damages was unconstitutional.
Citing a lack of Oklahoma precedent on this issue, the federal judge in the Western District allowed the Oklahoma Supreme Court to weigh in on whether the damage provisions in Section 1350 of the OADA are unconstitutional under Article V Sections 46 and 59 of the Oklahoma Constitution. The court stated that the Legislature has declared the OADA provides the exclusive remedies within this state for individuals alleging discrimination in employment. The court further stated that this statute expressly creates a cause of action for employment-based discrimination and abolishes common law (tort) remedies for such wrong.
Q: What does it mean for Oklahoma businesses?
A: The bottom line is that the revised OADA has survived its first major legal challenge, and on its centerpiece no less, the damages provision. This is great news for Oklahoma employers.
PAULA BURKES, BUSINESS Writer