Grothman Thanks Governor Walker for Signing Act 219: Law Removing Punitive Damages for Discrimination Claims
Madison: Last week Governor Walker signed Act 219 into law, which repealed a two-year-old law signed by Governor Jim Doyle that affected discrimination claims. The left has been spreading much misinformation and many lies about this bill. I would like to set the record straight.
This law which I authored with Michelle Litjens (R-Oshkosh) which Governor Walker signed brought Wisconsin’s equal protection law back to what it was in 2009.
People who feel that they are discriminated against can file a claim with the Department of Workforce Development. In 2007, 17% of claims were based on disability discrimination, 16% on race discrimination, 13% on sex discrimination, 13% on age discrimination, 7% on conviction record discrimination, with the rest based on other types of discrimination. Some sex discrimination claims are by men. Because left-wing media wants to portray Republicans as anti-women, they have reported this story as if Wisconsin’s anti-discrimination law is all about discrimination against women, when less than one-eighth of all discrimination claims in the state claim bias against women.
Before 2009, under state law, your damages were the amount you lost. If you were not hired or were fired, you would receive back pay. If you were underpaid, you would get additional pay, plus interest plus attorney costs and fees.
In 2009, the Democrats passed a bill which could have forced businesses to pay much more. After the state assesses damages, a jury could then also assess a business up to $300,000 in punitive damages depending on the size of the business. One should also remember that before and after the recently signed law that people may file a claim with the federal government.
Prior to this new law, businesses already felt the anti-discrimination laws were a problem, since many claims are made when someone is fired. Even in the most frivolous cases, businesses may incur legal fees. Their management may need to spend time fighting lawsuits, rather than managing the company. There also is always the fear that even if they are innocent, an administrative law judge will find them guilty. While they don’t advertise this, I have been told that some Wisconsin businesses will automatically give claimants $5,000 -$10,000 if they file a discrimination case just to go away. To make matters worse, there is no risk incurred by filing a discrimination claim – people can make things up and nothing happens to them.
There was little precedent for the Democrats’ 2009 law. Most other states did not have a law like it. Our neighbors in Iowa and Michigan did not allow punitive damages. Minnesota capped punitive damages at $25,000.
Wisconsin’s business community wanted to go back to the pre-2009 law in which discrimination was outlawed, but a jury could not give $300,000 in punitive damages. Representatives of the manufacturers, the hospitals, the grocers, the insurers, the builders, restaurants and small businesses registered in favor of my bill.
While only a small portion of these claims were made by women who allege sex discrimination, many left-wing people are claiming we have a problem because there was a study which showed women made 75% as much as men. In fact, the Wall Street Journal reported last year that single women under the age of 30 earn 8% more than men. The “wage gap” occurred primarily because of married couples in which the man is the primary breadwinner and the woman has taken time out to raise children or is working fewer hours than the man.
We all know couples who arrange their life in this way. That is fine if mothers prefer to take time off for their families and young children. Some angry feminists may hate these sorts of married couples, but as long as they exist, “studies” will show men make more than women. This targeting of traditional families is unfortunate and this should be obvious.
It is important to improve Wisconsin’s business climate and not have businesses in worse shape than other states. While the new law may not benefit trial lawyers, it is one more step in improving Wisconsin’s business ranking and environment.