Employment discrimination protections for LGBTQ employees

On Behalf of | Jun 23, 2021 | Employment Law

Wisconsin became the first state in the United States to prohibit workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation by amending the Wisconsin Fair Employment Act in 1982. A landmark decision by the Supreme Court in 2020 extended additional federal protections to gay and transgender employees. 

What rights do LGBTQ employees have in Wisconsin and do they apply to all employers? 

Protections under Wisconsin law

Employers can not terminate, refuse to hire or otherwise discriminate against individuals based on their sexual orientation. The WFEA defines sexual orientation as “having a preference for heterosexuality, homosexuality, or bisexuality.” The WFEA does not include protections for transgender individuals.  

Protections under federal law

Federal law extends the protections of the WFEA to transgender individuals. Additionally, lesbian, gay or bisexual employees protected by the WFEA may choose to pursue a discrimination claim under federal law or Wisconsin law.  

Choosing between federal and state law

Federal law protections under Title VII do not apply to companies with fewer than 15 employees. The WFEA applies to any business, person or agency that employs one or more people, except for the federal government and American Indian tribal employers.  

Remedies under the WFEA include reinstatement, back pay, attorney fees, costs, and interest. Title VII adds compensatory damages, front pay, and punitive damages. Additionally, the litigation process differs between federal and state discrimination claims.  

Individuals who believe an employer or potential employer illegally discriminated against them based on sexual orientation or gender identity may wish to seek legal advice before choosing whether to pursue a discrimination claim based on WFEA or Title VII.