U.S. Senate Passes Historic Anti-Discrimination Legislation

The United States Senate recently passed a historic piece of legislation that would ban workplace discrimination against gay and transgendered* employees. On November 7, 2013, the Senate voted 64-32 to pass the Employee Non-Discrimination Act (“ENDA”) which would apply to all civilian, nonreligious employers with at least 15 employees. Although ENDA has not been introduced for a vote in the United States House of Representatives—where it will undoubtedly face stiff opposition—the Senate vote marked the first time federal lawmakers approved significant legislation to advance gay and transgendered* rights in the workplace. Unfortunately, ENDA will not take effect until it passes both houses of Congress, leaving many gay and transgendered* employees in Wisconsin to question whether they have rights to confront workplace discrimination.

Wisconsin Law Already Protects Against Discrimination Based on Sexual Orientation

Thankfully, the Wisconsin Fair Employment Act (“WFEA”) prohibits Wisconsin employers from discriminating against their employees on the basis of sexual orientation. The WFEA defines “sexual orientation” as having a preference for heterosexuality, homosexuality, bisexuality, or having a history of such a preference or being identified with such a preference. The law prohibits any Wisconsin employer from discrimination in recruitment and hiring, job assignments, pay, leave or benefits, promotion, licensing or union membership, training, lay-off and termination or other employment related actions. The law also prohibits an employer from retaliating against applicants or employees who assert rights under the law or who suffer harassment at work.

Wisconsin Law Does Not Protect Against Discrimination Based On Gender Identity and Expression

Unfortunately, the WFEA law does not provide protections from discrimination on the basis of gender identity and expression. This means even though an employer and its workers cannot discriminate against gay, lesbian, or bisexual individuals on the basis of their sexual orientation, transgendered* individuals can, and often do, experience discrimination based on their gender identity and expression. However, a handful of local governments do ban discrimination based on gender identity and expression. For instance, the cities of Madison and Milwaukee both extend protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in housing, government employment, city contractors, and public accommodations.

Wisconsin employees who believe they have been discriminated against because of sexual orientation or gender expression should review our page on Employment Discrimination and contact the attorneys at Hawks Quindel, S.C. to discuss their case.

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Colin Good