John R. Cernelich

John R. Cernelich

Calfee, Halter & Griswold LLP

Recognized since 2013

Cleveland, Ohio

Practice Areas

Employment Law - Management

Labor Law - Management

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John Cernelich is a Partner and Chair of Calfee’s Labor and Employment practice group, representing employers in all workplace-related issues, as well as in employment litigation in both state and federal court.

John counsels employers with both unionized and non-union workforces on every aspect of the employment relationship, including discipline and termination issues, medical leaves of absence, wage and hour compliance, workplace safety concerns, drug/alcohol in the workplace and in conducting internal investigations. John offers guidance regarding non-discrimination laws and addresses claims of discrimination based upon race, sex, national origin, age, religion and other protected characteristics.

John serves as a resource for clients involved with claims of sexual or other discriminatory harassment and provides practical guidance responsibly to address and resolve such claims. He has significant experience assisting employers in accommodating persons with disabilities and otherwise complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act. He defends claims of unlawful retaliation based upon employees pursuing civil rights claims. John also provides guidance to clients on a regular basis as to rights and obligations under the Family and Medical Leave Act. He has appeared in appellate courts throughout Ohio, as well as before the Sixth Circuit and D.C. Courts of Appeals in federal cases.

John assists employers in drafting and promulgating restrictive covenants designed to avoid unfair competition, such as non-compete, non-solicitation and confidentiality agreements. He appears in court to obtain temporary restraining orders and other injunctive relief as to former employees who violate these restrictive covenants.

He regularly handles administrative proceedings before the Wage & Hour Office, the OFCCP regarding affirmative action obligations, OSHA, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. He defends employers and management representatives sued in court by former employees claiming “wrongful termination” on a variety of grounds.

John’s experience representing employers with unionized work forces includes extensive involvement with the National Labor Relations Board, including counseling employers in representation elections and as to unfair labor practice charges. He has extensive first chair experience negotiating labor contracts for several employers involving many different unions, including the Teamsters, UAW, IBEW and the Steelworkers Union.

John regularly counsels employers as to contract administration and interpretation and successfully has arbitrated many grievances involving both disciplinary actions and contract interpretation.

John advises clients as to a wide variety of issues that arise in the workplace on a daily basis, including discipline/termination and leave-related issues which arise with little advance notice. He recognizes that immediate responsiveness is critical to best serve in-house counsel, human resources professionals and management representatives.

John drafts and revises employment contracts and personnel policies, including those concerning non-discrimination, the FMLA, electronic communications, and confidential business and technical information.

John regularly conducts in-house training sessions for management and supervisors to assist them in complying with the wide array of laws impacting the workplace. John is a frequent speaker at Calfee’s regular half-day Labor and Employment seminars and at the firm’s “Workplace Breakfast Series” sessions. He serves as a member of the firm’s Practice Planning & Growth Committee (formerly known as the Executive Committee).

Since 2014, John has been recognized for his work in Labor & Employment by Chambers USA. “[John Cernelich] provides outstanding service and great advice,” says one source, with another regarding John as “very knowledgeable.” In Chambers USA 2020, John is described by a client as "extremely professional, knowledgeable and a good resource in each and every case we pursue. He is proficient at putting together a case that is sound, logical and meets the needs of the company."

He also has been selected for inclusion in The Best Lawyers in America© (2013-2021) in the areas of Employment Law – Management and Labor Law – Management. He is ranked by Benchmark Litigation as a “Labor & Employment Star – Midwest" (2019-2020). He has an AV Preeminent rating from Martindale-Hubbell and is listed in Cleveland’s Top-Rated Lawyers Guide.


  • The Calfee Building
    1405 East Sixth Street
    Cleveland, OH 44114-1607


  • University of Virginia , J.D., graduated 1986
  • Harvard University, B.A., graduated 1982

Bar Admissions

  • United States, Ohio

Court Admissions

  • U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio
  • U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
  • U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit

Calfee, Halter & Griswold LLP
Headquarters: Cleveland, Ohio

54 The Best Lawyers in America® awards

21 Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch in America awards

Best Law Firms Badge
Full Firm Profile

Recognized in The Best Lawyers in America® 2022 for work in:

  • Employment Law - Management
  • Labor Law - Management


  • Chambers USA, Labor and Employment (2014-2021)
  • Benchmark Litigation, Labor & Employment Star – Midwest (2019-2021)
  • The Best Lawyers in America©, Employment Law – Management, Labor Law – Management (2013-2022)
  • Martindale-Hubbell, AV Preeminent rating
  • Cleveland’s Top-Rated Lawyers Guide

Contract Termination Agreement

Assisted client in closing unionized production and maintenance facility and relocating work to a nearby non-union facility. Negotiated and drafted Contract Termination Agreement with union, prepared required WARN Notices and counseled as to severance an outplacement assistance to assist affected workers with their transitions.

Training - "Real World" Scenarios

Provided onsite training to managers and supervisors at a manufacturing concern in several sessions to accommodate personnel working on all shifts at multiple facilities. Engaged management team with “real world” scenarios involving the interplay of the FMLA, the ADA and worker’s compensation laws.

Collective Bargaining Agreement

Negotiated collective bargaining agreements with both a Teamsters Local and a USW Local providing each employer with its first five-year labor agreement, both including favorable wage and benefit provisions. First chaired all negotiation sessions with regular communication with, and guidance from the president of each company to achieve client’s bargaining objectives.

Leaves of Absence

Assist clients with managing leaves of absence to comply with the Family & Medical Leave Act, the Americans With Disabilities Act, and workers’ compensation Laws. Prepare comprehensive “medical” and “family” leave policy statements to assist HR professionals in promulgating straight forward, “user friendly” policy statements to allow employer to manager leaves effectively.

Resolving of Acrimonious Employment Termination

Successfully resolved acrimonious employment termination involving highly placed executive through face-to-face meetings with the executive’s counsel and disclosure of personnel documents outside of the discovery process to evidence the company’s legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons for transitioning the executive. Able to avoid costly litigation and arrive upon a practical solution which benefited all concerned.

Non-compete Covenant

Enforced non-compete covenant against vice president of sales resigning clients’ employment and immediately soliciting business for a local competitor from the client’s existing customers. Case was resolved with former employee resigning from competitor and agreeing to abide by the terms of his post-employment covenants, with his new employer compensating client for all business lost due to disregard of the non-compete restriction.

Trucking Industry Client - Wage & Hour Office

Successfully represented a trucking industry client in a comprehensive investigation conducted by the Wage & Hour Office as to their drivers categorized as independent contractors, classification of employees as “exempt” or “non-exempt” from overtime entitlement, and as to workplace practices concerning the tracking of working time.

ADA Violation

Successfully defended claims of disability discrimination in violation of the ADA in federal court regarding an employee who was terminated after two years of uninterrupted medical leave. Discovered additional grounds for termination by obtaining physician’s records indicating that employee had obtained a full release to return to work well prior to his eventual discharge, thus implicating the company’s three-day “no show, no call” rule.

Sexual Harassment Investigation in the Workplace

Conducted on-site investigation at employer’s premises regarding allegations of sexual harassment allegedly affecting the work environment of several co-workers. Interviewed several co-workers with on-site HR manager and confronted alleged harasser with his inappropriate behavior. Counseled employer as to appropriate remedial action leading to the alleged harasser being transitioned from the workplace.

Reorganization of Employees

Assisted a large employer in a reorganization resulting in the separation of several employees within several protected classes. Prepared and revised internal memoranda to assist management in communicating the reorganization, as well as “Separation Agreements” for the affected employees complying with the Older Worker’s Benefit Protection Act. Assisted client in obtaining meaningful outplacement resources to assist displaced employees in transitioning to alternative employment.

High Tech Safety Helmet Manufacturer

Successfully represented a manufacturer of high tech safety helmets in avoiding an engineer with significant knowledge of its confidential designs and technical information from joining a competitor in California in violation of his non-compete and other restrictive covenants by obtaining an emergency TRO and further injunctive relief in the Court of Common Pleas for Cuyahoga County, Ohio. The former employee was made to comply with his post-employment obligations, as the competing employer revoked his offer of employment when faced with the Preliminary Injunction issued by the Court.

Counsel Against Teamsters Local Union Campaign

Provided daily counsel to a large employer facing an aggressive organizing campaign by a Teamsters local Union. The production and maintenance employees at issue voted to maintain a union-free workplace in a formal election conducted on-site by the National Labor Relations Board on site. Successfully defended all unfair labor practice charges filed by the Union relating to this election resulting in the NLRB certifying the victory for the employer.

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