What Does the Law Say?


Where is the law regarding sex discrimination in employment in Wisconsin found?


The Wisconsin Fair Employment Act (WFEA) prohibits sex discrimination in employment. The law can be found at Wis. Stat. § 111.31.


To whom does the WFEA apply to?


The WFEA applies to all private and public employers, regardless of how many workers they have. However, WFEA does not apply to federal employers.


Under the WFEA, what is illegal?


It is illegal for an employer to refuse to hire, to terminate, or to discriminate against any individual in promotion, compensation or in terms, conditions, or privileges of employment based on sex.


What is sex or gender discrimination?


Any practice or policy that treats women unfairly simply because they are women constitutes sex or gender discrimination. Such acts can either be overtly degrading to women (such as sexual harassment) or simply differential treatment toward women.


What constitutes sex or gender discrimination under WFEA?


Under the WFEA, discriminating in promotion, compensation, or terms of employment on the basis of sex constitutes sex discrimination. Additionally, sexual harassment, discrimination because of pregnancy, and retaliation for opposing discriminatory acts are considered sex discrimination.


What is an "employee" under this law?


Any person not employed by his or her parents, spouse, or child who works for any employer in Wisconsin is considered an employee under the WFEA.


What is an "employer" under this law?


An employer may be the state of Wisconsin, its agencies, and local government, as well as any other person engaging in any activity, enterprise, or business employing at least one individual. An employer may also include employment agencies and labor organizations.


Are women a "protected class"?


Yes. The WFEA prohibits employment discrimination against on the basis of sex and therefore women are a protected class under Wisconsin law.


Is there a federal law about sex discrimination?


Yes. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is a federal law which prohibits discrimination in the workplace based on sex. It was amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, which guarantees equal benefits to pregnant women. The Equal Pay Act of 1963 guarantees equal pay for equal work.


How does the state law compare with federal in terms of coverage?


Both the WFEA and federal Title VII protect employees from discrimination in employment status, pregnancy discrimination, or retaliation for exercising your legal rights. Unlike Title VII, however, Wisconsin law explicitly extends these protections to workers based on their sexual orientation or marital status. In addition, although Title VII covers only employers with over fifteen (15) employees, WFEA covers employers with any number of employees.


Is it ever okay for my employer to treat or impact women differently because of their sex?


Under Wisconsin law, employers may use affirmative action hiring and retention policies to increase workforce participation by women in jobs where they are underrepresented. Additionally, employers may treat women differently than men if being male is a bona fide occupational qualification (BFOQ) for a specific job. In this case, the employer must show that women are not capable of performing the essential duties required by a job. For example, a director casting the leading man for his new film can legitimately refuse to hire a woman for the role.


In a nutshell, what must I prove to win my case?


You must show that, more likely than not, your employer took an adverse employment action against you because you are a woman. Discrimination might involve hiring/firing, promotion, compensation paid for equal or substantially similar work, or in other terms, conditions or privileges of employment such as health insurance or fringe benefits.


What could my employer do to deny my allegations, and how do I respond to their denials?


If the Wisconsin Equal Rights Division ("the Division") of the State of Wisconsin's Department of Workforce Development investigates your case and decides there is enough evidence, you may go before an administrative law judge for a full hearing. You will then have the initial burden of showing the judge some evidence that your employer discriminated against you. If the judge is satisfied that you have met this burden, your employer will have an opportunity to then give legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons for his or her actions. If your employer can give a sufficient reason for his or her actions, you must respond by proving that, more likely than not, the reasons offered by your employer were not the true reasons for his or her actions, but instead were only a pretext for discrimination. If you meet this final burden you have shown true discrimination.


Does it matter when the discrimination occurred?


Yes. You must file a claim with the Division or the EEOC within three hundred (300) days of the discriminatory action.

For more information, please see What Does the Law Say?


Who enforces the law?


Cases involving sex discrimination in employment are investigated by the Division. An equal rights officer will investigate your complaint. If the officer finds sufficient evidence to pursue your case, an administrative law judge will hear your claim. The judge may issue orders granting you damages or forcing your employer to take the certain actions. The judge's orders must be obeyed just like the law.


Does it matter how many employees my employer has?


The WFEA applies to all employers in Wisconsin, regardless of their size. For more information, please see What Does the Law Say?


If I prove my disparate impact claim, what remedies am I entitled to?


You will be entitled to equitable relief, which is relief intended to make you whole again. You may be able to recover back pay to compensate you for lost earnings, front pay to compensate for a pay differential resulting from discrimination, injunctive relief to correct your employer's discriminatory practices, or reinstatement to any position that you lost as a result of discrimination.For more information, please see Remedies.


Return to States


Legal Glossary