By Joshua Benton
Blade Columbus Bureau
COLUMBUS — Attorney General Betty Montgomery is trying to deny state employees the basic workplace protections guaranteed for other workers, Democrat Richard Cordray said yesterday.
Mr. Cordray, who faces Ms. Montgomery in her re-election bid, said that on at least three basic protections guaranteed under federal law – protection from age discrimination, accommodations for the disabled, and family medical leave – Ms. Montgomery has argued in court they don’t apply to state workers.
“This is a radical and sweeping assault on the rights of state employees,” he said.
Spokespeople for Ms. Mont gomery said that assertion is absurd and that the cases Mr. Cordray cites are simply procedural disputes over what court cases should be heard in.
Earlier this year, Mr. Cordray had made an issue of Mary Ann Thomson, a former administrative assistant at Ohio State University Hospital in Columbus, who was forced to quit her job when her boss denied her unpaid leave to care for her father after he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.
The Family and Medical Leave Act, passed by Congress in 1993, requires companies with at least 50 workers to grant up to 12 weeks unpaid leave in such cases.
But Ms. Montgomery argued in court that an exception had to be made for state governments, which she noted could not be sued in federal court.
Mr. Cordray has criticized the incumbent ever since as trampling on workers’ rights in the case. But yesterday, he said that Ms. Mont gomery’s “right-wing agenda” extended beyond family leave.
He pointed to at least three other cases in which the attorney general made a similar argument, including cases involving protections under the Americans With Disabilities Act and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act.
In each case, he said, Ms. Montgomery argued that state employees did not have the same rights to workplace protections as other workers.
“Betty Montgomery has aggressively attacked the civil rights of the people of Ohio by calling these laws unconstitutional,” Mr. Cor dray said.
State Solicitor Jeffrey Sutton said Mr. Cordray’s attacks are off base and that the dispute is simply over whether the cases should be heard in the state court of claims or federal court.
“The debate is not over whether they can sue,” he said. “These laws are great. The question is just where you go.”
But John Marshall, an attorney representing clients in two cases where Ms. Montgomery has made this argument, said that the state wants the cases to go to the Ohio Court of Claims, where they could not have a jury trial.
“The Court of Claims is not a good place to be in these cases,” Mr. Marshall said. “Betty Montgomery should be thinking of the rights of the people of the state and not protecting state government.”
Mr. Cordray – still wearing a hospital bracelet after his wife gave birth to twins on Sunday – said that his opponent’s denials signal a lack of ethics and a willingness to “fuzz the truth.”
He pointed to Friday’s decision by the Ohio Elections Commission to reprimand gubernatorial candidate Bob Taft’s campaign for making a false statement about Democrat Lee Fisher. Mr. Taft had said in an ad that Mr. Fisher, a former attorney general, had cut crime-fighting staff by 15 per cent while in office.
That statement, judged false by the commission, was originally made by Ms. Montgomery in her successful 1994 campaign against Mr. Fisher.
“It’s not just a Taft statement, it’s a Montgomery-Taft statement that was judged to be false,” Mr. Cordray said.
Ms. Montgomery’s spokesperson, Susan Verble, said the candidate would have no comment on her 1994 allegation. “She’s busy with her own campaign now,” she said.