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When can I file a private discrimination lawsuit against an employer?

Workplace discrimination is usually a distressing occurrence for those exposed to it, particularly if the discrimination is followed up by retaliation against those who speak out or take action to stop it. One of the big questions these employees have is: how can I hold my employer accountable for allowing discrimination to occur?

Strong protections against illegal discrimination exist under both federal and state law, but many people aren’t exactly aware of what rights they have in terms of taking action against an employer when discrimination occurs. One important point to understand is that an employee’s ability to sue an employer for discrimination is limited, at least initially. 

Under Wisconsin’s Fair Employment Law, there is no private right of action as it is the Department of Workforce Development’s responsibility to enforce the law. Employees may file complaints with the department, though, and should do so. Under federal law, there is also a complaint process, but it is also possible to file a private discrimination suit as well.

For most types of illegal discrimination, an employee must first file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The EEOC first conducts its own investigation to determine whether there has been a violation of law. The agency may or may not decide to pursue a discrimination case, but the complainant is not able to file a private lawsuit until he or she receive a Notice of Right-to-Sue, which occurs when a complaint is dismissed.

In some cases, it may be possible to obtain a Notice of Right-to-Sue prior to the completion of an EEOC investigation. The agency is legally required to provide notice if more than 100 days have passed since the complaint was filed. Before that time, the agency has discretion to provide notice.

Pursuing a discrimination claim in court is no small matter, of course, and it requires the representation of an experienced advocate to build the strongest possible case. An skilled attorney can also help in navigating the complaint process under both state and federal law.

Sources:

Wisconsin Statutes, Section 111.31-111.395

State of Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, Fair Employment Law and Complaint Process, Accessed May 25, 2017.

U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Filling a Lawsuit, Accessed May 25, 2017. 

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