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Published: Tuesday, 12/11/2007

Chairman of state s civil rights commission abruptly retires

Barbara Sykes Barbara Sykes
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COLUMBUS The new chairman of the Ohio Civil Rights Commission abruptly announced her retirement today rather than face almost certain Senate rejection after she defied the Democratic governor who appointed her and Republican lawmakers over a controversial maternity-leave proposal.

Barbara Sykes, a former state representative appointed in August, announced her resignation effective Dec. 31. She had been asked to appear this afternoon in a rare confirmation hearing before an unhappy Senate State and Local Government Committee.

The committee was expected to recommend that the full Senate reject her confirmation tomorrow just before it recesses for the holidays. The Senate has rarely rejected a governor s appointment.

Gov. Ted Strickland had made it clear he would not try to rescue the nomination after she rejected his request to slow down a proposed administrative rule requiring businesses with four or more employees to provide pregnant women with 12 weeks of unpaid leave.

Ultimately, the proposed rule was rejected on a technicality last week by a Republican-controlled legislative rule-review panel, a move that not only shelved the commission s rule at least temporarily but largely sealed the fate of the commission chairman.

"Recently, the important work of the Commission has been detracted by political back-and-forth," Ms. Sykes wrote in her resignation letter submitted to Mr. Strickland. She added that she hoped her resignation will lead to the "hastening resolution of this issue and allowing the Commission to return to the numerous other cases before them."

She raised concerns, however, about the future independence and strength of the commission.

The rule requiring that employers provide 12 weeks of unpaid maternity leave would have replaced a far less specific 1977 rule requiring leave of a "reasonable period of time." The proposal would have been stricter than federal maternity leave law applying only to businesses with at least 50 employees.

Contact Jim Provance at: jprovance@theblade.com or 614-221-0496.

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