On February 21, 2012, the Wisconsin Assembly passed a bill that eliminates compensatory and punitive damage awards for violations of the Wisconsin Fair Employment Act (WFEA). The Wisconsin State Senate passed the bill on November 3, 2011. The WFEA covers claims of discrimination in employment on the basis of a number of protected characteristics and prohibits the use of honesty and genetic testing in the workplace. Governor Scott Walker is expected to sign the bill.
The bill reverses a 2009 law (discussed here) that permitted a complainant or the Department of Workforce Development (DWD), after completion of an administrative proceeding, to bring an action in circuit court to recover compensatory and punitive damages. The 2009 law allowed compensatory damages to make the plaintiff whole for future economic losses, pain and suffering, emotional distress, and other non-economic losses. Punitive damages could be awarded where it was proved that the defendant had acted maliciously or with intentional disregard for the plaintiff's rights. The 2009 law included caps on the total damage award depending on the size of the employer.
New LawUnder the new law, compensatory and punitive damages are no longer available for violations of the WFEA. However, the DWD may still award back pay, reinstatement (or front pay), costs and attorneys' fees. The new law will apply to all future complaints and all pending complaints in which the DWD has not reached a final determination. The law will take effect the day after its publication, which may not be more than 10 days after it is signed by Governor Walker.