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Your Rights Filing a Discrimination Claim - Wisconsin

1. What kinds of discrimination are against state law in Wisconsin?

The Wisconsin Fair Employment Law Wisc. Stat. Ann. §111.321 through 11.36 makes it illegal for an employer to discriminate on the basis of age, race, creed, color, disability, marital status, sex, national origin, ancestry, sexual orientation, arrest record, conviction record, membership in the national guard, state defense force or any other reserve component of the military forces, or use or nonuse of lawful products off the employer's premises during nonworking hours.

Employers may not require certain types of honesty testing or genetic testing as a condition of employment, nor discipline an employee because of the results.

Wisconsin law also provides broader protection for disabled employees than the similar federal statute, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The Wisconsin Fair Employment Act allows “working” to be considered a major life activity, requires a greater level of accommodation, and otherwise is more favorable for employees. For more information about the ADA, see our page on disability discrimination.

2. How do I file a discrimination claim in Wisconsin?

A discrimination claim can be filed either with the state administrative agency, the Wisconsin Equal Rights Division (WERD) or the federal administrative agency, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The two agencies have what is called a “work-sharing agreement,” which means that the agencies cooperate with each other to process claims. Filing a claim with both agencies is unnecessary, as long as you indicate to one of the agencies that you want it to “cross-file” the claim with the other agency.

The Wisconsin anti-discrimination statute covers employers of any size. Therefore, if your workplace has between 1 and 14 employees, you may wish to file with the WERD, as the EEOC enforces federal law which covers only employers with 15 or more employees. If your workplace has 15 or more employees, you may file with either agency.

To file a claim with the WERD, contact your closest office below. More information about filing a claim with the WERD can be found at http://www.dwd.state.wi.us/er.

Madison Office
1 South Pinckney Street, Room 320
P.O. Box 8928
Madison, WI 53708-8928
Phone: (608) 266-6860
TDD: (608) 264-8752
Fax: (608) 267-4592
Milwaukee Office
819 North Sixth St., Room 255
Milwaukee, WI 53203
Phone: (414) 227-4384
TDD: (414) 227-4081
Fax: (414) 227-4084

To file a claim with the EEOC, contact your local EEOC office below. More information about filing a claim with the EEOC can be found at http://www.eeoc.gov/facts/howtofil.html.

EEOC's Milwaukee District Office
310 West Wisconsin Avenue
Suite 800
Milwaukee, WI 53203-2292
Phone: (414) 297-1111
TTY: (414) 297-1115

3. What are my time deadlines?

Do not delay in contacting the WERD or EEOC to file a claim. There are strict time limits in which charges of employment discrimination must be filed. In order for these agencies to act on your behalf, you must file with the WERD or EEOC within 300 days of the date you believe you were discriminated against. However, as you might have other legal claims with shorter deadlines, do not wait to file your claim until your time limit is close to expiring. You may wish to consult with an attorney prior to filing your claim, if possible, but if you are unable to find an attorney who will assist you, it is not necessary to have an attorney to file your claim with the state and federal administrative agencies.

You may also wish to check with your city or county to see if you live and/or work in a city or county with a local anti-discrimination law, or “ordinance.” Some cities and counties in Wisconsin (including Madison) have agencies that process claims under local ordinances and may be able to assist you. These agencies are often called the “Human Rights Commission,” “Human Relations Commission,” or the “Civil Rights Commission.” Check your local telephone directory or government website for further information.

4. How can I or my attorney pursue a claim in court in Wisconsin?

If your case is successfully resolved through the investigative process before an administrative agency, it may not be necessary to hire an attorney or file a lawsuit (to resolve your case, you probably will be required as to sign a release of your legal claims). However, if your case is not resolved during the investigative process by the WERD or EEOC and you maywant to continue to pursue the matter, you will need to pursue your claim either through the administrative hearing process of the WERD or Federal Court.

There is no private right of action under Wisconsin law for discrimination claims, which means that you cannot file a lawsuit directly in court under Wisconsin law. You are allowed only to appeal the administrative determination of your case after following the WERD's process to its conclusion. Therefore, under state law, a hearing before the WERD Administrative Law Judge would be your only opportunity to examine witnesses and present evidence.

A federal employment discrimination case cannot be filed in court without first going to the EEOC, as discussed above, and having the EEOC dismiss your case. This process is called “exhaustion” of your administrative remedy. Once the EEOC issues the document known as “Dismissal and Notice of Rights” or “Notice of Right to Sue” (Form 161), only then can you file a case based upon your federal claim. A lawsuit based on your federal discrimination claim must be filed in federal or state court within 90 days of the date you receive the notice. (Be sure to mark down that date when you receive the notice.) This deadline is called the “statute of limitations.”

If you have received one of these EEOC notices, do not delay consulting with an attorney. If your lawsuit is not filed by the deadline, then you may lose your ability to pursue a discrimination case.

Because Wisconsin's state antidiscrimination statute does not permit the compensatory (emotional pain and suffering) and punitive damages (damages intended to punish the employer) allowed under federal law, and because Wisconsin law does not permit a court action to be filed under state law, many Wisconsin attorneys choose to file employment discrimination cases in federal court using federal law.

This page was updated on October 20, 2006

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