• WisBusiness

WMC: Doyle signs workplace punitive damages legislation

James A. Buchen, (608) 258-3400
John Metcalf, (608) 258-3400

Felons, Others Can Sue Employers for Up to $300,000

MADISON – Convicted felons and other members of protected classes will be able to file lawsuits to win workplace punitive damage awards up to $300,000 under a new law signed by Governor Jim Doyle today. WMC opposed the legislation.

The new law allows punitive damage awards of up to $300,000 for workplace discrimination lawsuits, along with actual damage awards. Felons are a protected class under Wisconsin law.

WMC urged Doyle to veto the legislation. “This new law will make Wisconsin less competitive as employers are confronted by increased workplace litigation,” said James A. Buchen, WMC vice president of government relations. “We wish the Governor had listened to the broad array of the business community, and vetoed this bill in order to allow the current state discrimination remedies to remain in place, and allow workers with larger claims to continue taking their disputes to the federal system, as they have done in the past.”

The new state law allows workplace discrimination claims – including felons rejected for jobs -- to be ruled on by the state Department of Workforce Development (DWD), and then again in a second jury trial before a Wisconsin Circuit Court. The new approach replaces a system that currently allows sole review and rulings by the Department of Workforce Development. Nearly two-thirds of claims are currently rejected by DWD for lack of merit. Workers currently can receive back pay and reinstatement for legitimate claims.

“This new law makes Wisconsin less competitive as employers will now find that they can be forced to defend themselves twice for workplace lawsuits in DWD, and again in Circuit Court. And most of these claims are not well-founded,” Buchen said. “Nevertheless, the change would encourage lawyers to sue in court in hopes of getting a big pay out.”

The new law is part of a cascade of anti-growth policies under consideration in Madison.

Below is a list of other legislation that would hamper the state’s competitiveness during the current recession that has seen unemployment reach 9.4 percent statewide:

* Increase income taxes to a top rate of 7.75 percent, 11th highest in the nation.
* Increase taxes by over $1 billion on businesses and investors.
* Increase capital gains tax by cutting the 60 percent exclusion to only 40 percent.
* Increase energy costs with a gross receipts tax on petroleum products. Executives would face fines equal to the amount of the tax passed on to consumers.
* Expand liability by returning to joint and several liability that allows a defendant found to bear 1 percent of fault to pay 100 percent of the damages.
* Increase pressure to raise property taxes by repealing the QEO, qualified economic offer law.
* Increase property taxes by exempting transportation and other expenses for school districts from revenue limits.
* Increase insurance premiums by mandating increased coverage for auto insurance.
* Increase the minimum wage by 17 percent.
* Establish a $.75 per month, per line phone tax to raise more than $100 million.
* Repeal a ban on local minimum wage ordinances.
* Index the minimum wage increases to inflation, year after year, without any connection to worker productivity increases.
* Increase corporate taxes by 11 percent a year under a plan that taxes profits made on operations in other states.
* Increase insurance premiums on employers by over $100 million for new mandated health care coverage.
* Increase the garbage tax from $5.90 to $10.30 per ton.
* Increase fees for large water users.
* Increase the mandated wage lien that supersedes bank liens in the event of a business closing. This will require increased collateral for you to get a loan, and may even require you to provide more collateral for existing loans.
* Expand prevailing wage law to private projects receiving public assistance.
* Allow juries to hear presentations from a judge about the legal consequences of a verdict in a civil case, and allow lawyers for both sides to comment before deliberations.
* Ban corporate speech at election time through increased regulation of business-funded issue advertising.
* Extend the sales tax to custom software and overturn a Supreme Court precedent established that said custom software is tax exempt.
* Redirect $1.45 million from the Wisconsin Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund to fund reemployment services to unemployment insurance recipients. The Wisconsin Unemployment Fund is currently insolvent and borrowing from the Federal Government to pay benefits.

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