On November 21, 2017, the De Pere city council added to Wisconsin’s list of municipalities with local nondiscrimination ordinances. For employers, the De Pere ordinance creates a unique protected class in Wisconsin: victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking. De Pere, Wisconsin, employers will need to comply with the new ordinance when it takes effect on March 1, 2018.
With De Pere’s ordinance, Wisconsin is now home to four municipalities with employment nondiscrimination rules that go beyond the protections provided by state and federal law. Appleton joined Madison and Milwaukee in 2014 to become the third municipality to pass such nondiscrimination laws. Nearly every one of these ordinances recognizes at least one protected class that is unique compared to any other local, state, or federal requirement. In addition to recognizing victims of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking as a protected class, the ordinance includes protections, distinct from state or federal law, on the basis of family status, gender identity, gender expression, and source of lawful income.
De Pere’s ordinance requires individuals who believe that an employer violated the local law to file a complaint with the city administrator within 300 days of the alleged transgression. The details of how complaints will proceed once filed by an individual have yet to be worked out because the ordinance requires the city administrator to adopt policies and regulations as that office sees fit. However, the ordinance does not provide for individuals to receive back pay or other damages that are available under state and federal law. Instead, any complaint that is not resolved by the city administrator will be forwarded to the city attorney’s office for an ordinance enforcement determination.
In the recent past, Republicans who continue to control Wisconsin’s executive and legislative branches of government have demonstrated an interest to preempt and effectively eliminate local ordinances (such as De Pere’s latest law), which create a patchwork of employment regulations in the state. For example, in 2008, Milwaukee enacted a paid sick leave ordinance binding private employers in the city. The Wisconsin legislature quickly responded to this ordinance by enacting Wisconsin Statutes Section 103.10(1m)(a), which made issues of family and medical leave subject to the state government’s exclusive regulation. In light of the growing list of Wisconsin municipalities enacting nondiscrimination ordinances, the Wisconsin legislature may soon act again to eliminate the city and town regulations on this subject matter.