Bill Exposes Employers to Frivolous Litigation; Creates 'Super Protected Classes' Eligible for Massive Claims

Apr 03, 2001, 01:00 ET from Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce

    MADISON, Wis., April 3 /PRNewswire/ -- Wisconsin Manufacturers and
 Commerce Tuesday blasted controversial legislation that substantially
 increases incentives for workplace litigation and damages Wisconsin's business
 climate.
     The bill, authored by Rep. Christine Sinicki, (D-Milwaukee) and Sen. Jon
 Erpenbach, (D-Middleton), would amend the Wisconsin Fair Employment Act (WFEA)
 and expose all Wisconsin businesses to punitive damage awards and increase
 incentive to file frivolous lawsuits, establishing "super protected classes"
 of workers.
     "Wisconsin employment laws were designed to protect the rights of both
 employers and employees alike," said WMC Vice President of Government
 Relations James A. Buchen.  "However, this bill would turn the workplace into
 a fishing pond for trial lawyers."
     The bill introduced Tuesday authorizes the state Department of Workforce
 Development (DWD) to order payment of compensatory or punitive damages in
 certain discrimination cases.  In addition, the bill would also force
 employers to pay DWD an assessment equal to 10 percent of the amount of
 compensatory and punitive damages ordered -- a damage "surcharge."
     The bill establishes five "super protected classes" for discrimination
 cases based on sex, race, color, national origin, or ancestry.  There are
 currently thirteen protected classes of employees under the Wisconsin Fair
 Employment Act.  Claims of discrimination based on "super protected class"
 status would be eligible for the proposed punitive damages, and damage
 surcharge.
     "We shouldn't be setting up certain groups in our society as super
 protected classes," Buchen said.  "Employers want fair, consistent standards,
 and not a myriad of special categories."
     Wisconsin's current fair employment law provides a variety of remedies for
 employees who allege discrimination in the workplace, including job
 reinstatement, back pay, and reimbursement for costs and attorney fees.
     However, the law provides no protection for employers from frivolous or
 groundless discrimination lawsuits, such as recouping their legal costs when
 defending against groundless or frivolous claims.
     Buchen said the bill would subject state businesses to additional
 fraudulent claims and unnecessary litigation because of the additional
 incentive to sue, and the complete lack of penalty in the law for filing a
 WFEA claim that lacks merit.  Currently, a significant number of the
 complaints filed with DWD are dismissed due to lack of probable cause.
     "This bill opens the floodgates for frivolous litigation," Buchen said.
 "Expanded liability for employment decisions, and the associated legal defense
 costs, would result in irreparable harm to all Wisconsin businesses, large and
 small.
     "Wisconsin law can not tolerate the open-ended personal injury type of
 litigation over disputes arising in the course of an employer and employee
 relationship that this litigation would create."
 
 

SOURCE Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce
    MADISON, Wis., April 3 /PRNewswire/ -- Wisconsin Manufacturers and
 Commerce Tuesday blasted controversial legislation that substantially
 increases incentives for workplace litigation and damages Wisconsin's business
 climate.
     The bill, authored by Rep. Christine Sinicki, (D-Milwaukee) and Sen. Jon
 Erpenbach, (D-Middleton), would amend the Wisconsin Fair Employment Act (WFEA)
 and expose all Wisconsin businesses to punitive damage awards and increase
 incentive to file frivolous lawsuits, establishing "super protected classes"
 of workers.
     "Wisconsin employment laws were designed to protect the rights of both
 employers and employees alike," said WMC Vice President of Government
 Relations James A. Buchen.  "However, this bill would turn the workplace into
 a fishing pond for trial lawyers."
     The bill introduced Tuesday authorizes the state Department of Workforce
 Development (DWD) to order payment of compensatory or punitive damages in
 certain discrimination cases.  In addition, the bill would also force
 employers to pay DWD an assessment equal to 10 percent of the amount of
 compensatory and punitive damages ordered -- a damage "surcharge."
     The bill establishes five "super protected classes" for discrimination
 cases based on sex, race, color, national origin, or ancestry.  There are
 currently thirteen protected classes of employees under the Wisconsin Fair
 Employment Act.  Claims of discrimination based on "super protected class"
 status would be eligible for the proposed punitive damages, and damage
 surcharge.
     "We shouldn't be setting up certain groups in our society as super
 protected classes," Buchen said.  "Employers want fair, consistent standards,
 and not a myriad of special categories."
     Wisconsin's current fair employment law provides a variety of remedies for
 employees who allege discrimination in the workplace, including job
 reinstatement, back pay, and reimbursement for costs and attorney fees.
     However, the law provides no protection for employers from frivolous or
 groundless discrimination lawsuits, such as recouping their legal costs when
 defending against groundless or frivolous claims.
     Buchen said the bill would subject state businesses to additional
 fraudulent claims and unnecessary litigation because of the additional
 incentive to sue, and the complete lack of penalty in the law for filing a
 WFEA claim that lacks merit.  Currently, a significant number of the
 complaints filed with DWD are dismissed due to lack of probable cause.
     "This bill opens the floodgates for frivolous litigation," Buchen said.
 "Expanded liability for employment decisions, and the associated legal defense
 costs, would result in irreparable harm to all Wisconsin businesses, large and
 small.
     "Wisconsin law can not tolerate the open-ended personal injury type of
 litigation over disputes arising in the course of an employer and employee
 relationship that this litigation would create."
 
 SOURCE  Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce