There are steps to take if you feel your employer has violated the Wisconsin Fair Employment Law. The first is to file a complaint with the Equal Rights Division. For a complaint to be valid, it must be filed within 300 days of the alleged discrimination. Complaint forms with instructions are available from the Equal Rights Division of the Department of Workforce Development. It is also available on the Equal Rights Division’s website. Although settlement is sometimes a possibility and should seriously be considered when available, it can take one year or longer to resolve cases through the Equal Rights Division.
Once you file a Complaint, it is assigned to an Equal Rights officer for investigation. The investigator does not represent either side and cannot give legal advice to the parties. After a Complaint is received, a copy is sent to the employer and a written answer must be filed. The investigator may contact the complainant, the employee filing the Complaint, to answers questions after receiving the Complaint. The investigator can also ask questions of the employer. Finally, the investigator may ask the parties if they want to resolve the case through settlement.
If a case is not settled, the investigating officer submits a document indicating that there is either “probable cause” to believe that the law has been violated or “no probable cause” to believe that the law has been violated.
Remember that a finding of probable cause is not a finding of discrimination. What this means is that there is enough believable evidence of discrimination to send the case on for a hearing on its merits. A finding of no probable cause means there is no evidence of discrimination to warrant any further action. The case is dismissed unless the employee files a written appeal within 30 days.
In the event of a hearing, the process is similar to that of court proceedings. The case is presented to an Administrative Law Judge who hears from the witnesses and reviews exhibits received during the hearing. All relevant evidence is presented at the hearing and the administrative law judge issues a written decision following the hearing.
In the event discrimination is proven, the Administrative Law Judge can award many damages. The Administrative Law Judge can make the employer “whole” by awarding back pay, reinstatement, lost benefits, interest and attorney’s fees and costs. An Administrative Law Judge cannot award humiliation, emotional pain or punitive damages. However, if a complainant has been discriminated against and feels that he or she is entitled to these types of damages such an action can be filed in circuit court after the Administrative Law Judge’s decision is issued.
If you are an employer with questions about the Fair Employment Law and the Complaint process please contact us. In the event you are an employee who feel your rights have been violated please contact us for a no cost, no obligation consultation to discuss your issues and remedies.