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Wisconsin Legislature Passes Bill Curbing Damages under Anti-Discrimination Law

  • February 28, 2012

A bill has been passed by both houses of the Wisconsin legislature that would repeal the right of successful complainants to receive an award of compensatory and punitive damages in circuit court under the Wisconsin Fair Employment Act. Senate Bill 202, introduced September 27, 2011, was passed by the Senate on November 3, 2011, on a straight party-line vote of 17-16.  The bill was passed by the Assembly on February 21, 2012, by a vote of 60-35.  Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is expected to sign the bill.

Recent History of Remedies Available

Prior to June 8, 2009, a complaining party who proved his or her allegations of "employment discrimination or unfair honesty or genetic testing" under the Wisconsin Fair Employment Act could recover back pay (with interest) and attorney’s fees and costs.  Additionally, in some circumstances, the complaining party would have been entitled to receive an order of reinstatement, or front pay in lieu of reinstatement.

Then, however, Wisconsin’s controversial “Act 20” became law.  Act 20 added compensatory and punitive damages to the remedies available to a successful complainant under the Fair Employment Act.  Act 20 applied to complaints filed with the Department of Workforce Development on or after July 2, 2009.  Thus, a successful complaining party, after completion of all administrative procedures, could file an action in circuit court to recover compensatory and punitive damages.

If Senate Bill 202 Becomes Law

Senate Bill 202 seeks to repeal Act 20 and restore the Fair Employment Act’s remedies to their pre-June 8, 2009, status by eliminating compensatory and punitive damages from the relief available to successful complainants.

We will provide updates on the bill as warranted.

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