If You Experience Discrimination
Discrimination can be very difficult to prove, so it’s critical to detail what happened and provide evidence that demonstrates what happened was based on sexual orientation - not, for example, on unrelated interpersonal conflicts or poor work performance. To challenge discrimination you should:
- Document everything. Write a timeline of what happened, when, and who was involved. Keep copies of relevant paperwork, including correspondence between you and your landlord or employer and copies of job evaluations.
- Check to see if your company or labor union has its own employee nondiscrimination policies and internal complaint procedures. Take advantage of these policies and procedures, put any complaints in writing, and keep copies.
Filing a Discrimination Complaint
If you believe you have been discriminated against because of your sexual orientation in the workplace, in housing, or in public accommodations, you can file a complaint with the Equal Rights Division, the state’s enforcement agency for civil rights laws. Transgender people may also be able to file discrimination complaints if the discrimination they experience can be attributed to sex-based or disability discrimination. It might be useful to talk to someone at the Equal Rights Division about this kind of situation (see below for contact information).
The agency will review your complaint and determine whether or not they believe it merits an investigation. If, after investigation, the agency finds there is reason to believe discrimination occurred, the case will move forward and eventually there will be a hearing with an administrative law judge who will make a final decision.
There are time limits governing when you can file a complaint. In order to have your complaint considered by the state agency, you must file it within the specified time period following the date when the discrimination occurred:
Workplace discrimination: 300 days
Public accommodations: 300 days
Housing discrimination: 1 year
It is illegal for an employer to retaliate against you for filing a claim or for opposing discrimination against others. The Equal Rights Division has more information on its website (see below for address) about what to do if this happens.
Tips on filing a complaint with the Equal Rights Division:
You do not need an attorney to file a complaint, though, if you have the means, you can choose to hire one to assist you. Some attorneys offer free (“pro bono”) services or require a fee only if you win your case. If you win a discrimination claim at the Equal Rights Division, the law requires the person, company, or business that discriminated against you to pay your attorney fees. (See Resources for attorney referral services.)
Some non-profit organizations may be able to provide free assistance with filing a complaint.
Filing a complaint is different than suing your employer in court. You cannot take a case to the court system unless you first go through the entire complaint process with the Equal Rights Division.
To contact the Equal Rights Division:
The Equal Rights Division website has information about what to do, including online copies of the complaint forms and tips on how to file a complaint. The Division’s main offices are in Milwaukee and Madison:
819 N. 6th Street, Room 255
Milwaukee, WI 53203
201 E. Washington Avenue, Room A300
P.O. Box 8928
Madison, WI 53708-8928
To contact local civil rights agencies:
For information concerning local laws, see the “Local Ordinances” and the “Protection for the Transgender Community” sections on our Wisconsin Anti-Discrimination Laws page.
Local enforcement agencies generally follow the same time limits as the state agency for when you can file a complaint. You should check with the local agency to be sure.
If the discrimination occurred in Milwaukee and violates the city’s nondiscrimination law, you can also contact Milwaukee’s equal rights agency:
Milwaukee Equal Rights Commission
200 E. Wells St., Room 606
Milwaukee, WI 53202
If it happened in Madison and violates city nondiscrimination law, you can also contact the city government agency:
Madison Equal Opportunities Commission
210 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
Madison, WI 53709
Disclaimer: This resource is designed to educate people generally about the law, but it is not legal advice. If legal advice is needed, contact an attorney.