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Bill to eliminate compensatory and punitive Damages in Discrimination cases introduced in Wisconsin

September 30, 2011

Several Wisconsin Senators have introduced a bill (available here) to repeal existing provisions in the Wisconsin Fair Employment Act (WFEA) that make it possible for an employee to recover compensatory and punitive damages for unlawful employment discrimination. If passed, the bill will be a victory for employers and a reversal of current Wisconsin discrimination policy — policy that is only two years old. The proposed bill will not affect other remedies, including back pay, reinstatement, costs and attorney’s fees.

A little background — on June 8, 2009, Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle signed 2009 Wisconsin Act 20 into law. This law added a provision to the WFEA that allowed an employee claiming a violation of the WFEA to file a lawsuit in circuit court to recover compensatory and punitive damages. This change only applied to employers with 15 or more employees and to discriminatory acts that occurred on or after July 1, 2009, the effective date of the law. Before July 1, 2009, an employee’s only available remedies for employment discrimination were back pay, reinstatement, costs and attorney’s fees.

To file a lawsuit in circuit court, the employee must succeed on the merits during the adminstrative process and exhaust those procedures.  If the circuit court finds that the employer unlawfully discriminated against the employee, the law requires the court to award compensatory and punitive damages as it or a jury deems appropriate.  These awards are subject to statutory caps, which vary based on the employer’s size.  For example, an award against an employer with 100 or fewer employees cannot exceed $50,000, while an employer with 501 or more employees faces a maximum of $300,000 in compensatory and punitive damages.

Stay tuned for updates . . .

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