Ohio Defends Workers’ Compensation Procedure

COLUMBUS, Ohio (CN) – The Ohio Supreme Court heard arguments Tuesday over the constitutionality of an amendment to state workers’ compensation law that requires an employer to consent to the dismissal of an injured worker’s claim.

The amendment, passed in 2006, prevents an employee from unilaterally dismissing his or her complaint for benefits without consent from the employer in a case where the employer filed the initial appeal.

Shannon Ferguson, who injured his shoulder while working for Ford Motor Co., claimed Ohio Revised Code 4123.512(D) violates the Equal Protection Clause.

Judge Robert McClelland of the Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court agreed with Ferguson and granted his motion for summary judgment.

A three-judge panel from the Ohio Court of Appeals’ Eighth Appellate District affirmed the decision in 2015, finding that the law is unconstitutional because it violates the principles of separation of powers, equal protection and due process. The appeals court wrote that “the employer in this scenario is given a benefit over the injured worker under amended R.C. 4123.512(D), i.e., the right to control the injured worker’s complaint on appeal.”

On Tuesday morning, Michael Hendershot, representing the state and Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, told the Ohio Supreme Court that “this is not really a constitutional case at all … but is best thought of as a policy disagreement.”

Hendershot reasoned that the employer must give consent because employees will often dismiss cases to prolong the administrative process while maintaining workers’ compensation benefits.

David Meyerson, representing Ferguson, countered the state’s argument: “This isn’t about benefits, this is about the right to participate. Mr. Ferguson was not receiving benefits; he was still working at Ford.”

Several of the justices seemed open to the idea of separate standards for employers and employees during workers’ compensation proceedings.

Justice Judith L. French asked Meyerson, “Why isn’t it just rational from an administering justice standpoint to say, ‘if it’s the employer’s appeal, you must get the employer’s consent?’”

“It’s not rational to separate one party’s right to participate from another’s,” the attorney replied.

Hendershot addressed the rationality of the statue in his rebuttal.

“[Meyerson] seems to ask us to blind ourselves from what’s going on outside the court, but these claimants are absolutely different,” he said. “They are not similarly situated. It is rational to save time, to save money, and to give employers control over their own appeals.”

No timetable has been set for the Ohio Supreme Court’s decision.