Ohio Supreme Court Rules that Sunshine Law Applies to Exchange of e-mails Among School Board Members

May 2016


Under the Open Meetings Act (“the Act”), all meetings of any public body must be open to the public. A “meeting” is “any prearranged discussion of public business of the public body by a majority of its members.”

In White v. King, the Ohio Supreme Court considered whether an e-mail discussion among four members of public school board for the purpose of drafting a response to an editorial criticizing a Board policy was a public meeting. One Board member drafted the response and three other Board members accepted it. The Board later ratified the response at a public meeting. The remaining Board member sued, alleging that the e-mail collaboration among a majority of the Board violated the Act.

On May 3, 2016, the Court held that the e-mail discussion could constitute a meeting if it was prearranged. The Court reasoned that R.C. 122.22 “prohibits any private prearranged discussion of public business by a majority of the members of a public body regardless of whether the discussion occurs face to face, telephonically, by video conference, or electronically by e-mail, text, tweet, or other form of communication.” Therefore, “a prearranged discussion of the public business of a public body by a majority of its members through a series of private e-mail communications is subject to R.C. 121.22.” The Court held that by ratifying the response at a public meeting, the Board made the previous discussions public business under the Act.

In light of this ruling, school board members should carefully consider the extent to which they discuss public business via email or other electronic communications.

EEOC issues guidance regarding bathroom access rights for transgender employees

On May 2, 2016, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued a fact sheet confirming its view and rulings that Title VII’s prohibition of discrimination on the basis of gender extends to discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. The EEOC has ruled that denying an employee equal access to a common restroom corresponding to the gender with which the employee identifies is sex discrimination. The EEOC has also ruled that an employer cannot condition this right on the employee undergoing surgery or providing medical proof of any medical procedure. Finally, the EEOC has held that employers cannot avoid the requirement that they provide equal access to a common restroom by restricting transgender employees to single user restrooms. Employers can make single user restrooms available to all employees who may choose to use them.

The fact sheet is available at www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/publications/fs-bathroom-access-transgender.cfm.