If you believe you have been discriminated against and are considering whether to take the initial step of filing a complaint, you may be wondering, “what happens if I win my case?” There are a variety of remedies available under both federal and state law if you win your case. These remedies can be grouped into three categories: (1) remedies for past damages; (2) remedies for future damages; and (3) compensatory, punitive, and attorney fee damages.

1. Past Damages

If successful, you will be able to recover your back pay, past wages, and benefits that you would have received but for your termination. Back pay includes your wages, salary, bonuses, or commissions and any fringe benefits such as health care benefits, vacation and sick pay, pension benefits, and stock purchase benefits. Back pay is awardable from the date the discrimination occurred until the date a court enters judgment, not to exceed two years from the date you filed the charge. To avoid having your damages reduced, you should diligently seek alternative employment in a position that is substantially similar to your former job (or the job for which you applied but were not hired).

2. Future Damages

In addition to remedies related to losses that occurred in the past, you also may be entitled to a remedy for your future wage loss. A court may order your employer to reinstate you to your former position. If you are not reinstated to your former position, either because there are no open positions or because the employment relationship is too strained, a court may award you front pay. Front pay is the difference between what you would have received in wages at your former employment (or in the position for which you applied or sought promotion) had you been reinstated and what you can now expect to receive in your current or future employment.

3. Compensatory, Punitive, and Attorney Fee Damages

Both Wisconsin and federal law allow for the recovery of attorney’s fees and costs. Under the Civil Rights Act of 1991, you may also recover compensatory damages and punitive damages, subject to certain caps. Compensatory damages include pain and suffering, injury to reputation or professional standing, and other pecuniary and nonpecuniary losses. Punitive damages may be awarded if the violation of your rights was particularly egregious, such as when the discrimination occurred for a long period of time or where the conduct was severe. If the employer discriminated against you because of your age (over 40), or if the employer paid you less compensation due to your sex, you may be able to recover liquidated (double) damages.

Current Wisconsin law, likewise, allows for the recovery of compensatory and punitive damages if, after exhausting the administrative process, you file an action in circuit court to recover those types of damages. However, Wisconsin State Senate Bill 202, which passed the Senate in November 2011 and will be before the Assembly this January, proposes to eliminate your ability to recover these types of damages under Wisconsin law. Thus, for cases where your only protection from discrimination is found under state law, such as sexual orientation discrimination, your ability to recover compensatory and punitive damages is at risk. More about SB 202 can be found here: https://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/2011/proposals/sb202

The nuances of your particular discrimination case will require a comprehensive analysis before determining your likelihood of success and your potential for recovery. If you are seeking legal advice regarding discrimination at your workplace, please contact our firm.

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