Recent news coverage involving Madison taxicab drivers illustrates the stigma associated with labels such as “criminal,” “sex offender,” and “felon.” Once an individual has a criminal record, it can become very difficult to obtain employment. All Wisconsin employees with criminal records have legal employment rights, however, and generally they may not be denied employment, taxi driver permits or other licenses based on their criminal history.

Wisconsin Law Makes It Unlawful to Discriminate on the Basis of Arrest or Conviction Record

In Wisconsin, individuals generally may not be discriminated against based on their arrest or conviction record. Wis. Stat. § 111.321. Discrimination includes refusing to hire someone, refusing to license an individual or terminating an individual because of his criminal record. Discrimination also includes treating an individual differently from similar employees with regard to compensation or other terms of employment. Wis. Stat. § 111.322(1). Thus, if taxicab drivers are denied permits or jobs on the basis of their criminal history, they may be victims of unlawful discrimination.

Exceptions to the General Rule Against Arrest or Conviction Record Discrimination

Notwithstanding Wisconsin’s prohibition of discrimination on the basis of an individual’s criminal record, employers and licensing agencies may discriminate if the circumstances of the charge Substantially Relate to the circumstances of the job or licensed activity. Wis. Stat. § 111.335(1).1 For instance, it would be permissible to deny a bank teller position to a person convicted of theft from a financial institution. Similarly, an individual convicted of physical abuse of a child could be denied a teaching or childcare position.

For taxicab drivers, the Labor and Industry Review Commission has held the charges of sexual assault and threat to injure another are substantially related to the licensed activity of taxicab driving. Rathbun v. City of Madison, ERD Case No. 199500515 (LIRC Dec. 19, 1996). Nevertheless, it would be difficult to argue that certain crimes, such as disorderly conduct, damage to property or retail theft, are substantially related to the circumstances of the job.

Wisconsin Employees, Including Taxicab Drivers, May File Complaints if their Rights Have Been Violated

Madison taxicab drivers who have been denied a driver’s permit may file an appeal with the City Traffic Engineer. Further, all Wisconsin employees who believe they have been discriminated against due to their criminal record may file complaints with the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, Equal Rights Division. In some instances, federal law also may be implicated. If you believe you have been discriminated against due to your criminal history, or for some other reason, please contact us for a free case evaluation.


1 The statute includes a number of additional exceptions based on job or license.

Danielle Schroder

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