Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

City Appeals Employee Challenge to Forced COVID-19 Leave

An open office space full of empty desks, chairs, and computers.

Two employees of the city of Cincinnati argue the city didn’t follow rules for layoffs during the pandemic.

An open office space full of empty desks, chairs, and computers.

Two employees of the city of Cincinnati argue the city didn’t follow rules for layoffs during the pandemic.

The COVID-19 pandemic forced a steep decline in economic activity for cities. That decline significantly curtailed municipal revenue, leaving cities to figure out how to keep delivering on essential responsibilities, such as police, fire, and social services.

In Cincinnati, the city implemented a temporary emergency leave (TEL) program in spring 2020. The TEL program placed certain non-essential employees on leave. City employees Jeffrey Harmon and David Beasley were put on leave for three months.

In May 2020, Harmon and Beasley appealed their leave to the Cincinnati Civil Service Commission. They argued they were laid off, and the city didn’t follow the civil service rules for layoffs. According to the employees, the layoff rules weigh seniority and performance to decide who gets put on leave. Harmon had worked for the city for 29 years, and Beasley had been employed there for 16 years. If the city had followed the rules, Harmon and Beasley maintained they wouldn’t have been laid off.

Harmon and Beasley also were members of a union – the Cincinnati Organized and Dedicated Employees (CODE), which represents about 1,000 city employees. Nationwide, about 4.3 million employees of local governments are represented by unions, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data. While Harmon and Beasley pursued their case to the civil service commission, CODE filed a grievance against the city over the TEL program. The grievance was made on behalf of all unionized employees impacted by the program.

At the civil service commission, it was determined that a couldn’t be held on the claims from Harmon and Beasley. The TEL program wasn’t a layoff or separation, so it didn’t fall under the civil service rules, the commission concluded.

Courts Disagree With Commission Determination
Harmon and Beasley appealed to Hamilton County Common Pleas Court, which found that the TEL program was a layoff, and the employees were entitled to a hearing before the commission.

The city appealed to the First District Court of Appeals, which upheld the trial court decision. The city appealed to the Supreme Court of Ohio, which accepted the case.

The Supreme Court will hear Harmon and Beasley v. City of Cincinnati and two other cases during one day of oral arguments on Jan. 9.

Leave Program Could Be Appealed Only Through Grievance Process, City Contends
The city argues that the collective bargaining agreement with the union governs this dispute. According to the agreement, the matter must be resolved through an arbitration process, the city maintains. It contends that the employees’ appeal to the commission was improper based on the agreement and because the legal claims made to the commission and in the labor grievance were the same. Pursuing the same claims in different forums isn’t allowed, the city argues.

An amicus brief from the Ohio Municipal League asking the Court to accept the case agreed that the employees can’t pursue their legal claims in two forums. Permitting appeals in multiple places prevents employment disputes in the state from being efficiently resolved, and municipal employers could be forced to defend frivolous claims and incur increased costs to defend against them, the group argues. Its members include more than 700 Ohio villages and cities employing tens of thousands of employees.

The city also maintains that the TEL program was an appropriate exercise of the city’s management rights under the bargaining agreement.

Bargaining Agreement Permits Appeal of Layoffs to Commission, Employees Argue
Harmon and Beasley respond that the TEL program was a layoff, no matter what the city named it. And, they note, the collective bargaining agreement states that employees can appeal procedural aspects of layoffs to the civil service commission.

The employees also contend that the claims filed with the commission and in the grievance weren’t the same. The grievance challenged the TEL program’s legitimacy based on the provisions of the bargaining agreement, while the appeal to the commission alleged that civil service rules had been violated, the employees argue.

Additional Cases Before the Court
There are two other appeals to be heard by the Court next week. Detailed case previews from the Office of Public Information are available by clicking on the name of each case.

Oral arguments begin at 9 a.m. The arguments will be streamed live online at and broadcast live on the Ohio Channel, where they are archived.

Appeals Courts
In State v. Maldonado, a man was convicted in 2019 for felonious assault and firearm offenses. After an appeal, the case was returned to the Cuyahoga County trial court for resentencing. The man also appealed the new sentence, and the case was assigned to a three-judge panel of the appellate court. However, the appeals court determined that all 12 of its judges had to review the case en banc because of earlier decisions that conflicted on the same legal issue. The Supreme Court will review whether a three-judge panel must first rule on an appeal before the full appellate court evaluates the case.

Attorney Fees
Two commercial lighting companies have been in a long-standing legal battle that first reached the Court in 2020. The Court only considered the amount of legal fees one lighting company was to pay to the other. When the matter returned to the trial court, the judge entered a $1,991,507 judgment for attorney fees as directed by the Supreme Court. The judge also granted a request from the prevailing lighting company for another $1.56 million in fees incurred for the appeals. In Phoenix Lighting Group v. Genlyte Thomas Group, the Court will consider whether the trial court’s power was limited to only following the directive of the Court.