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What Ohio Employees Need to Know About Claims for Employment Related Emotional Distress

Under Ohio and federal law, certain types of related employment claims permit the recovery of emotional distress damages as an element of “compensatory damages.”  Additionally, Ohio courts recognize a specific cause of action for the “intentional infliction of emotional distress,” which also can apply to work related situations.  Employment claims where emotional distress damages may be awarded can be categorized as follows:

Emotional Distress as an Element of Compensatory Damages

Certain types of tortious injuries permit employees to recover damages for emotional distress as an element of the damages that may be independently awarded to the employee.  Examples of tort claims where emotional distress damages are available include assault and battery, fraud, defamation, invasion of privacy, conversion and the intentional interference with an employment relationship.  However, absent a contemporaneous physical injury, emotional distress damages can only be recovered upon proof the injury was caused by malicious or outrageous conduct which constitutes an invasion of a personal right.  Doyle v. Fairfield Mach. Co. (1997), 120 Ohio App.3d 192, 221.

Federal Statutory Emotional Distress Damages

Certain federal employment statutes expressly authorize the award of emotional distress damages.  Examples include Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, and the Fair Labor Standards Act.  Moreover, if the claim for emotional distress damages is limited to allegations of short term embarrassment and humiliation and the injury does not rise to the level of a specific mental or psychiatric disorder (sometimes described as “garden variety emotional distress”), the employee may refuse to disclose the employee’s medical records, which would otherwise be discoverable.  Langenfeld v. Armstrong World Indus. Inc., 299 F.R.D. 552-553 (S.D. Ohio 2014).

Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress

Ohio courts recognize a separate cause of action for the intentional infliction of emotional distress, which can apply to certain employment related situations.  A claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress may be brought when an employer intentionally and by extreme and outrageous conduct subjects an employee to serious emotional distress.  Extreme and outrageous conduct is defined as conduct that “goes beyond all bounds of decency” so as to be “regarded as atrocious, and utterly intolerable in a civilized community.”  Yeagar v. Local Union 20 (1983), 6 Ohio St.3d 369, 375.  There must also be proof of emotional injury is sufficiently severe and debilitating that a normal person would be unable to adequately cope with the mental anguish under the circumstances.  Paugh v. Hanks (1983), 6 Ohio St.3d 72, 78.  Some examples of serious emotional distress include traumatically induced neurosis, psychosis, chronic depression or phobia.  Failure to seek medical treatment is admissible as evidence of a lack of serious emotional distress.  Ward v. Oakley, 2013 Ohio 4762, ¶ 42.

Key point:       Abusive language, insults, profanity, bad manners, yelling or screaming is generally insufficient to establish extreme and outrageous conduct.

Key point:       Expert testimony is not required to recover damages for emotional distress, but is admissible to assist in evaluating the severity of the emotional distress suffered.

Key point:       While not absolutely required, seeking medical treatment for emotional distress helps to establish the severity of the emotional distress suffered.

When an employee is subjected to tortious treatment or discrimination involving the employment relationship, the available remedies may include emotional distress damages.  In these situations, an employee should seek competent legal advice at the earliest opportunity.  Folkerth and Folkerth has substantial experience handling employment related emotional distress claims.

Disclaimer:  This article has been prepared by attorneys employed by this firm and is provided for general information purposes only to permit you to learn more about our firm, our services and the experience of our attorneys.  The information presented is not legal advice, may not be applicable or may be contrary to the laws of certain jurisdictions, is not to be acted upon as legal advice, may not be current, and is subject to change without notice.