LIMA — A new agency in a neighboring town has offered you a job that would amount to a $20,000 a year pay increase, but there’s one hitch (always a hitch!).
The employer requires that you live in the city in which the agency is located.
That would mean giving up the country home you saved and scrimped to buy just five years ago. No more pond. So much for the wood shop.
What do you do: Take the dream job or keep the dream home?
It’s a decision, legally, an employer may not be able to force you to make.
The issue of employment residency requirements is muddy legal ground, says Richard Bales, a law professor at Ohio Northern University College of Law.
While requiring an employee or an applicant to live in a designated place may not be intentional discrimination, it does violate non-intentional, disparate impact, discrimination laws.
The reasoning on the part of a city or county for requiring, or at least preferring, employees and applicants can sound viable. Before 2009, Lima required all city employees to live within Lima City limits, said Vince Ozier, Lima Director of Human Resources.
“The mayor and city officials wanted people invested in the city,” he said. “The idea was, if you lived in the city and worked there you would be more invested in doing what was best for the city.”
This kind of thinking can get cities into trouble because it could lead to unintentional discrimination. One of the problems is diversity.
For example, according to the 2016 census data, Putnam County is not a diverse place to live. It has a 92.5 percent white majority. The Hispanic population makes up 6.1 percent of the Putnam County population while African Americans make up only 0.5 percent of the population, Asians 0.3 percent and American Indians only 0.2 percent.
If there is a Putnam County agency looking to fill a position, it may post the job in multiple counties, even though the agency would prefer to hire someone who has lived in Putnam County for an extended time. The agency’s reasoning is similar to the Lima officials when they required city employees to live in Lima: If you like it there, you are invested in the area and know the people.
While his agency is willing to look at every applicants resume, in reality, it is limiting its focus to Putnam County residents, who are predominately white. This is an example of non-intentional discrimination, or disparate impact, said Bales.
“Yes, I would think that such a requirement would state a case of disparate impact discrimination,” he said. “It then would be up to the employer to show that the requirement is job-related an necessary to the business, which for most jobs would be difficult to do.”
The Allen County Sheriff’s Office does request its deputies to live within a 30 to 45 minutes drive to the sheriff’s office, said Andre McConnahea, its public information officer. The reason for that is because they want deputies to be able to respond in a timely manner to any emergency that arises, McConnahea said.
But, he’s never seen a hard and fast rule saying deputies have had to live within Allen County or Lima.
“If you live close to Allen County, chances are you come to Lima to do business,” he said. “As a deputy sheriff, you have a vested interest in keeping Allen County safe.”
The only Ottawa employees required to live within village limits are elected and appointed officials: chief of police, chief of the volunteer fire department, clerk treasurer and municipal director. The residency requirements can be waved if Mayor Dean Meyer recommends it to village council and it’s approved, said Jack Williams, Ottawa Municipal Director.
“If someone is living outside of town when they are appointed, they don’t have to move,” he said.
Disparate Impact cases are rare which means there isn’t much precedence on them, Bales said.
“They usually involved a class of people and they’re expensive,” Bales said. “They have to provide statistical evidence to prove discrimination took place which requires hiring an expert to analyze the data. They involve a group of applicants and employees to file. It’s expensive for them and for the city. There are strong incentives for the parties to settle.”
Bales said individuals can file a non-intentional discrimination case, but it isn’t likely because of how difficult they are to prove.
Reach Bryan Reynolds at 567-242-0362