Wisconsin to Eliminate Punitive and Compensatory Damages in Discrimination Cases

23 February 2012 Publication

Legal News Alert: Labor & Employment

On February 21, 2012, the Wisconsin Assembly passed a bill that would eliminate the potential for compensatory and punitive damages for employees who prevail on their discrimination claims in the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development (DWD). When signed by Governor Scott Walker (which seems certain), 2011 Senate Bill 202 will still entitle employees to reinstatement and the recovery of back pay, costs, and attorneys’ fees, but employees would not be able to use favorable findings in the DWD in a court to obtain additional damages. The Wisconsin Senate already passed the bill in November 2011, and Governor Walker is likely to sign the legislation into law within the next week or two.

The new law rolls back legislation that allowed courts to award compensatory and punitive damages ranging from $50,000 up to $300,000, depending on a company’s number of employees.

The punitive and compensatory remedies set to be eliminated by SB 202 were created only a few years ago. Civil actions for compensatory and punitive damages first became available to employees in July 2009, when the Legislature, then controlled by Democrats, enacted the law, and Governor Jim Doyle signed it into law. The passing of SB 202 marks another sharp turn in Wisconsin state politics that began with the 2010 state elections, which turned the Governor's office and both houses of the state Legislature from blue to red.

The new law (eliminating the potential of punitive and compensatory damages) will apply to those administrative proceedings still pending at the time the bill is signed into law but will not apply to proceedings where final orders were issued prior to the signing.

Legal News Alert is part of our ongoing commitment to providing up-to-the-minute information about pressing concerns or industry issues affecting our clients and colleagues. If you have any questions about this update or would like to discuss this topic further, please contact your Foley attorney or the following:

David J.B. Froiland
Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Ryan N. Parsons
Milwaukee, Wisconsin

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