Race Discrimination in Wisconsin

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Racial discrimination is the act of treating someone differently because of their race, color, creed, or national origin. In Wisconsin, the Equal Rights Division enforces the state’s laws against racial discrimination. According to this decree, it is against the law in Wisconsin for employers, employment agencies, labor unions, and licensing agencies to discriminate against any individual because of their color, creed, national origin, or race. Moreover, it is unlawful to retaliate against a person for complaining about discrimination or participating in a racial discrimination agency or court proceeding in Wisconsin. 


The Wisconsin Equal Rights Division’s website offers a wealth of free legal aid to help people who believe they may have been victims of racial discrimination. One such form of assistance is an online complaint form, which is needed to initiate a racial discrimination proceeding. Wisconsin has a 300 day time limit for filing a discrimination charge after the incident occurred. A recent amendment, which became effective on July 2, 2009, offers further legal support to complainants by allowing those people who receive positive discrimination findings to file a case in civil court in order to obtain higher monetary awards for damages.


Publication ERD-6061-PWEB describes Wisconsin’s fair employment law and the complaint procedure. It provides further legal help via publications in both English and Spanish, as well as online links for people who do not want to view pdf files. According to the brochure, it can take up to one year to resolve a civil rights complaint. After filing a complaint, an equal rights officer conducts an impartial investigation of the charges. If you decide that you would like legal assistance from an attorney, the division can provide you with a listing of attorneys who specialize in civil rights law.


During the investigation stage, the complaint will be sent to the respondent, who can then engage his or her own attorney to file a written reply to the complaint. Respondents can also file their replies on their own without the assistance of an attorney. After the division receives the respondent’s reply, the investigation may proceed with requests and interviews from witnesses, with a settlement being encouraged. If the case is not settled, the division completes its investigation and issues a finding. If the investigation results in a “no probable cause” finding, the case is dismissed unless the complainant files an appeal within thirty days. If the finding is “probable cause,” the case goes to a hearing where an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) makes a decision for or against the complainant.


Remedies that an ALJ may order to assist victims of racial discrimination include awards for lost wages, interest on lost wages, and attorney fees. The judge may also require that a job offer be extended to the complainant. If a case proceeds to federal court, a complainant may also win awards to compensate for humiliation, or emotional pain and suffering. Additional publications and pamphlets that may be helpful for Wisconsin residents include ERD-14009-PWEB - “Race, Color, National Origin and Ancestry” and ERD-7334-PWEB - “Harassment in the Workplace."


The Wisconsin Civil Compliance Division investigates complaints of racial discrimination against Wisconsin contractors, subcontractors, and vendors who receive federal financial assistance. The state has a separate process to address complaints of racial discrimination in housing matters. With housing-related racial discrimination complaints, a settlement is usually attempted prior to beginning an investigation as many complaints are resolved via compromise. However, if there is a finding of “probable cause,” the Equal Rights Division will issue the discrimination charge.


Wisconsin has several attorneys who provide legal assistance for both complainants and respondents in racial discrimination cases. One such list can be found at: lawyers.com. Attorney contact information can also be obtained through the State Bar Referral phone number at: 1-800-362-9082. This service will refer callers to a lawyer who practices in the area of law pertaining to their inquiry.  The hotline can also provide general legal information, answer basic legal questions, or provide referrals to community resources if your conversation leads to the conclusion that you could obtain what you need from someone other than an attorney.


Two organizations provide free legal services to low income individuals in Wisconsin. They are: Judicare, Inc., and “Law,” or Legal Action of Wisconsin, Inc., which has six offices throughout the state, whose locations are listed at: legalaction.org