Wisconsin Supreme Court upends employment law

On behalf of Fox & Fox, S.C.

For more than two decades, our state’s Labor and Industry Review Commission used the inference method” of causation to find liability in certain employment law cases. But the Supreme Court of Wisconsin upended that legal tradition when it concluded that the inference method is inconsistent with the Wisconsin Fair Employment Act (WFEA).

The inference method of causation was used in cases in which an employer fired an employee, for instance, for conduct that the worker claims was caused by a disability.

The court rejected the inference method in Wisconsin Bell, Inc. v. Labor and Industry Review Commission, stating that it improperly relieved workers of proving that an employer had discriminatory intent.

In this case, the employee worked in a customer call center. After he terminated eight consecutive calls, his supervisor suspended him. At a review of the suspension, the worker handed over letters from a psychiatrist and therapist who both described generally his bipolar order and symptoms.

The worker agreed to a “last chance” return to work, in which he acknowledged that certain behaviors would be grounds for dismissal. The next day, he used a health code to stop receiving incoming customer calls.

The employer determined that the health code was being used to avoid customer calls rather than used because of illness. He was then fired.

The employee later filed a discrimination complaint in which he alleged that the firing was because of his disability. The Wisconsin Labor and Industry Review Commission agreed, as did the Wisconsin Court of Appeals. But the state Supreme Court reversed that decision.

If you have been a victim of discrimination based on disability, please know that you can still protect your rights and interests with the help of a qualified employment law attorney.

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