February 27, 2012Client Alert

Wisconsin Legislature Passes Bill Repealing Compensatory and Punitive Damages Available Under State Law for Discrimination Claims

As a result of a vote last week in the Wisconsin State Assembly, both houses of the Wisconsin legislature have now passed 2011 Senate Bill 202 (“SB-202”), which repeals significant  modifications that were made to the Wisconsin Fair Employment Act (“WFEA”) in 2009 and eliminates compensatory and punitive damages for acts of employment discrimination or unfair honesty or genetic testing. The Wisconsin State Senate passed the bill on November 3, 2011.  Governor Scott Walker is expected to sign SB-202, which would then become effective the day after publication. The reform measure would apply to any administrative proceeding under the WFEA in which the final decision is mailed to the complainant on or after the effective date.

While SB-202 eliminates the awarding of compensatory and punitive damages to persons who have been discriminated against in employment or subjected to unfair honesty or genetic testing, the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development may still award back pay, costs and attorney fees to such persons. The 2009 law that SB-202 will repeal (if the governor signs it as expected) was also the subject of two previous Labor and Employment Relations Alerts, “Wisconsin Legislature Passes Bill Making Compensatory and Punitive Damages Available Under State Law for Discrimination Claims” (May, 2009) and “Update: Governor Doyle Signs 2009 Act 20 Permitting a Complainant’s Recovery of Compensatory and Punitive Damages in Wisconsin Employment Discrimination Cases” (June, 2009). Essentially this reform measure returns the WFEA to its prior state and provides “make whole” relief to victims of proven employment discrimination but not compensatory or punitive damages.  Employees who wish to pursue those damages, as applicable, may choose to file suit under federal employment discrimination law.

A copy of SB-202 is available by clicking here.  

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