EEOC Releases New Guidance on Workplace Harassment

EEOC Releases New Guidance on Workplace Harassment

On April 24, 2024, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) released new guidance on harassment in the workplace (“the Guidance”). The Guidance takes effect immediately. The Guidance sets forth the EEOC’s position on harassment that constitutes unlawful discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (“Title VII”). Some of the major changes in the Guidance are as follows:

  • Sex-based harassment includes harassment based on sexual identity and sexual orientation.
  • Unlawful harassment based on pregnancy or childbirth may include issues such as lactation and decisions regarding contraception and abortion.
  • Harassment based on “color” (including skin color pigmentation considerations) is prohibited
  • Conduct on video meetings can contribute to a hostile work environment
  • Conduct on non-work-related platforms, such as social media accounts, may contribute to creating a hostile work environment
  • A hostile work environment may be established by a single incident
  • Title VII prohibits “intraclass harassment,” (meaning harassment based on a protected characteristic but conducted by a member of the same protected class).

Why New Guidance? The Guidance was released to address the transformation in workplace environments due to the advent of the internet. Certain technological innovations, such as email and video conferencing, have become indispensable tools for business operations. In addition, the Guidance was released after the Supreme Court’s 2020 decision in Bostock v. Clayton County, in which the Court held that harassment based on gender identity or sexual orientation constitutes unlawful sexual harassment under Title VII. After the Court issued the Bostock decision, the EEOC convened a Select Task Force on Harassment in the Workplace and issued a report detailing its recommendations. This Guidance applies Bostock to the harassment context, explaining that harassment based on gender identity or sexual orientation constitutes unlawful sexual harassment under Title VII.

What Does This Mean for Your District? School districts should reevaluate their harassment policies considering the new Guidance. The Guidance itself encourages employers to have clear harassment policies and implement a safe and effective system for employees to report harassment. In addition, all employees should receive updated training on the new Guidance.

EEOC Releases New Guidance on Workplace Harassment

Court Clarifies When SERB has Exclusive Jurisdiction

Tipp City Edn. Assn. v. Tipp City Exempted Village School Dist. Bd. of Edn., 2023-Ohio-4000

 After a district issued an unpaid suspension to a teacher following several parental complaints, the Tipp City Education Association (TCEA) filed a grievance alleging that the district violated the collective bargaining agreement. The TCEA alleged that the district violated the agreement when it failed to encourage the parents to first discuss their complaints with the teacher, disciplining the teacher without good and just cause, and then failing to discipline in a progressive manner. The district and the TCEA proceeded through the grievance process, however they were unable to resolve the issue. Unlike the typical collective bargaining agreement that concludes the grievance process with binding arbitration, the agreement in this case provided that a grievant “may seek resolution through legal options.” As a result, the TCEA filed their complaint in the trial court. The school district argued that the complaint was improper because the court lacked jurisdiction, and that these claims fall exclusively under SERB’s jurisdiction.

 The 2nd Appellate District noted that there are two general areas in which SERB has exclusive jurisdiction to resolve unfair labor practice charges: 1. Where the parties file charges with SERB alleging an unfair labor practice; and 2. Where a complaint brought before the common pleas court alleges conduct that constitutes an unfair labor practice. Otherwise, under the Ohio Revised Code Section 4117.09(b)(1) a party may bring a suit for violation of a CBA in the court of common pleas. The 2nd District specifically noted that “nowhere in the Revised Code does the general assembly assign SERB exclusive jurisdiction over all issues touching on that chapter’s provisions.” Moreover, the Supreme Court of Ohio has expressly acknowledged that a plaintiff may bring a claim in common pleas court when that claim exists independently of the revised code, even if the claim may touch on the collective bargaining relationship.

 The court concluded by stating that in determining whether SERB has exclusive jurisdiction over a claim, the test is whether the claim is arising from or depends on the collective bargaining rights created by RC 4117, rather than the collective bargaining agreement.

 What does this mean for your district? If a party advances claims to a common pleas court and that claim arises from or depends on CBA rights created by the Revised Code, SERB has exclusive, original jurisdiction. However, if the party advances claims that are independent of the Revised Code and your collective bargaining agreement does not mandate binding arbitration, the case may proceed in common pleas court.

Read it Here! Science of Reading Professional Development Requirements Published

Read it Here! Science of Reading Professional Development Requirements Published



 In late March, the Ohio Department of Education and Workforce published guidance for districts on how to fulfill the staff training requirement for the new literacy improvement provision of HB 33.  The guidance may be accessed here. That provision mandates that teachers and administrators must complete professional development in the science of reading by June 30, 2025. This new guidance lays out how the training requirements can be met by staff through identifying the training topics, vendors, resources, and details for these select professional development opportunities. The training is available in online modules in the Department’s Learning Management System in addition to face-to face meetings with trained facilitators.

The guidance notes that teachers and administrators who completed similar training, notably the professional development that supports the requirements of Ohio’s Dyslexia Support laws, may also satisfy the HB 33 requirements. A training comparison chart is included in the guidance document.

Finally, the guidance provides some instruction concerning the stipend due to teachers for completing this professional development. Stipend amounts vary from $1,200 for all K-5 teachers, 6-12 English language arts teachers, and all intervention specialists, English learner teachers, reading specialists, or instructional coaches for grades K-12, to $400 for 6-12 teachers of subjects other than ELA.  Districts must first pay teachers the applicable stipend and then seek reimbursement from the Department.   HB 33 highlights that teachers shall complete the course “at a time that minimizes disruption to normal instructional hours. “

What this Means for Schools: Now that the guidance and course identification information is available, districts can commence planning to these required professional development opportunities.  Districts are cautioned to review their collective bargaining agreements and consult legal counsel to determine the appropriateness of using pre-arranged professional development days for this coursework in light of the stipend requirement.





































































































































































































































































































































































































































































Career Tech Corner: CTC Construction Program Builds Interest in Construction Delivery Methods

Career Tech Corner: CTC Construction Program Builds Interest in Construction Delivery Methods

The last Biennium Budget Bill included grants for the expansion of career technical opportunities. Last fall, the Governor’s office announced that of the 59 applicants for the Career Technical Construction Program, 35 were awarded almost $200 million. This funding will be used to build and expand classrooms and training centers at JVSDs, compacts, and comprehensives across Ohio in various programs like engineering, manufacturing, health sciences, construction, and more.

There are various construction delivery methods available to recipients of these funds who choose to use the for construction projects. The main three delivery methods utilized by school districts are summarized below.

1. Design-Bid-Build (“DBB”). This is the more traditional method of construction delivery. With this method, the owner hires an architect to develop the plans, specifications and estimates of cost. This requires a qualifications-based selection process. The architect then assists the owner with bidding the various bid packages for the contract either through a single general contract or multiple contractors. This method is typically used for smaller projects such as minor renovations, pre-fabricated buildings, athletic facility upgrades, etc., but can be utilized for larger projects as well. The Owner would contract with the architect and each prime contractor coming onto the project.

2. Design-Build (“DB”). This is often confused with DBB even though it is an entirely different delivery method. Through this method, the architect is responsible for both the design and the construction of the project. The owner has a single contract with the design-build firm. The design-build firm is selected according to a two-stage selection process that first considers qualifications then technical and price components for the delivery of the project. Prior to selecting a design-build firm, the Owner must hire a criteria architect to develop the design criteria for the project. The criteria architect is hired using a qualifications-based selection process in the same manner as hiring an architect or engineer for professional design services. Design-build is considered a faster delivery method, however, this is because there is not a lot of owner input on the actual design itself, only the criteria for the design, i.e., what components and functions the finished build must have. This method is good for projects such as an additional wing of traditional classrooms that do not have unique design components.

3. Construction Manager at-Risk (“CMR”). This is currently the most popular delivery method for new school construction, major renovations and additions projects, and projects where the owner wants to have a lot of input on the design and functional components of the build. With CMR, the owner hires an architect for the necessary professional design services. The Owner goes through a two-stage selection process first considering qualifications, then technical and pricing proposals. The Owner combines the scores across both stages and awards a contract to the winner. The CMR serves as both the construction manager and the builder. The Owner has a single contract with the CMR and the CMR is responsible for bringing in all materials, labor, and equipment to the Project.

Districts undertaking large or complex projects may consider hiring an owner’s representative. An owner’s representative is a professional agent who advises the owner and supervises the project to make sure it stays on track. While it is true that the architect and contractor will have contractual obligations to the owner, they are not “in their corner” so to speak and may end up in an adversarial position if a dispute about the work arises. The owner’s rep in turn is the agent of the owner and their focus is on asserting the owner’s interests on the project. The Ennis Britton Consulting Group (“EBCG”) provides owner’s representative services. Barb and Steve Shergalis of EBCG are former architects very experienced in public school construction projects.

Each of these delivery methods has their own unique requirements for properly soliciting the contracts to get the Project off the ground. It is therefore important to make sure that you are taking all the proper steps to ensure you have a valid contract in place that does not expose the Board of Education to unnecessary liability risks. Please do not hesitate to contact a member of the Ennis Britton Construction Practice Group with questions about the right delivery method for your project.

































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































To Block or Not to Block: U.S. Supreme Court Issues A Free Speech Decision Regarding Social Media

To Block or Not to Block: U.S. Supreme Court Issues A Free Speech Decision Regarding Social Media


 On Friday, March 15, 2024, the United States Supreme Court weighed in on the ability of public officials to block critics on social media accounts.

In Lindke v. Freed, a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court established a test or factors to consider when determining if a public official had a right to block critics on social media accounts. The record of the case showed that Freed maintained a private Facebook account, which was updated to include his appointment to city manager of Port Huron, Michigan in 2014. He utilized his Facebook account to post about his personal life, information related to his job, soliciting feedback on issues of concern, and communicating matters from other areas of the city. Freed would comment to posts on his account and occasionally deleted posts he considered “derogatory” or “stupid.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, community member Lindke posted his displeasure with how the city was handling the pandemic on Freed’s Facebook page. Freed deleted these posts and eventually blocked Lindke from commenting on Freed’s Facebook page. Lindke sued alleging Freed violated his First Amendment Rights.

In its decision, the U.S. Supreme Court set a standard that a public official’s social media activity could be considered state action only if the official:
(1) possessed actual authority to speak on the State’s behalf, and
(2) purported to exercise that authority when he spoke on social media.

The Court clearly indicated “[w]hile public officials can act on behalf of the State, they are also private citizens with their own constitutional rights.” The Court provided guidance on what public officials could do to do to avoid having their social media pages, and the actions on the same, called into legal question.

Board of Education members and other public employees can assist by making matters clear to the community and courts (if challenged) through:
1. Considering single-use social media (only an official page and only a personal page). The Court highlighted the concern with “mixed-use” social media.
2. Clearly designating social media pages as personal or official.
3. Consider a disclaimer (e.g., “the views expressed are strictly my own”) to create a presumption that posts are personal.
4. Review of policies and actions (i.e. past practice) to consider who is responsible for the official messaging of the board of education.






























































































































































































































































































































































































Career Tech Corner: Pre-employment Drug Tests and Recreational Marijuana

Career Tech Corner: Pre-employment Drug Tests and Recreational Marijuana


Last year in Ohio, recreational marijuana was authorized by initiative petition.  The state is still in the process of creating a regulatory process that will allow marijuana dispensaries to sell recreational marijuana in addition to medical marijuana.  This is currently predicted to be rolled out in fall 2024. 

 Does your CTC have a pre-employment drug testing policy?  CTC education, occurring in lab and sometimes offsite environments differs in many respects from traditional school districts.  This includes unique risks regularly encountered in lab programs.  Due to some of those unique risks, which include operating heavy equipment, managing volatile compounds, working with sharp objects, and much more, ensuring safety for staff and students is paramount. 

 The law on medical marijuana reinforces an Ohio employer’s right to prohibit the use of marijuana and require a drug-free workplace.  None of the language enacted with the medical marijuana law has changed at this point as it relates to the recreational sale of marijuana. 

 Marijuana is still a Schedule I prohibited substance at the federal level, but there is reason to believe this may change in the near future.  In August 2023, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recommended that marijuana be reclassified from a Schedule I prohibited substance to Schedule III.  This was taken under advisement by the Drug and Alcohol Enforcement Agency (DEA).   In January 2024, a group of senators petitioned the Biden administration to remove it as a scheduled substance altogether.  While this seems unlikely, it is possible that a change in how marijuana is classified at the federal level could happen in the near future.  Changing the schedule of marijuana would affect interstate commerce, and production, and may affect how employers may enforce workplace rules.

 In order to ensure that potential CTC employees are able to effectively supervise, use, and teach career-technical programming involving labs and heavy equipment, they must not be under the influence of prohibited substances.  Pre-employment drug testing sends a message of the expectations of the employer and provides an initial assurance that the employee is not a current user of prohibited substances.  It may result in some self-selection as candidates may not apply if they are recreational or medical users of marijuana.

 There are some special considerations and inherent risks for career technical education in terms of labs and programs offered, and as such, may merit consideration of a pre-employment drug testing policy.  Contact the EB CTC practice team if you would like to discuss this.