Senate Passes Bill Repealing Punitive and Compensatory Damages under the Wisconsin Fair Employment Act

The Senate this week passed Senate Bill 202, authored by Sen. Glenn Grothman (R-West Bend) and Rep. Michelle Litjens (R-Oshkosh), which repeals a law enacted last session (2009 Wisconsin Act 20) that for the first time imposed punitive and compensatory damages in discrimination cases under the Wisconsin Fair Employment Act.

Before enactment of Wisconsin Act 20 last session, an employer found liable for workplace discrimination was required to provide back pay for up to two years, reinstate the employee, and pay the employee’s attorney fees and court costs. These remedies will still be available to employees if or when SB 202 is finally passed by the Assembly and signed by the Governor.

Act 20 for the first time forced employers to pay punitive and compensatory damages, ranging from $50,000 to $300,000, depending on the number of people employed by the employer. Unlike federal law, however, Wisconsin indexed the punitive and compensatory damages to inflation, making it more advantageous to bring these types of lawsuits in Wisconsin.

Senate Bill 202 passed the Senate (17-16), and is expected to pass the Assembly when it reconvenes in January 2012. A broad coalition of business groups, along with the Wisconsin Civil Justice Council, supported the legislation.