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Take Pride, Wisconsin

June marks Pride Month for the LGBTQ+ Community, making now a good time to reflect on progress. Some may not be aware that Wisconsin was an early leader in enacting legislation which protected individuals on the basis of sexual orientation in the workplace. In 1982, Wisconsin became the first state in the nation to ban employment discrimination statewide on the basis of sexual orientation when it amended the Wisconsin Fair Employment Act (WFEA). The WFEA is a state statute that prohibits various forms of workplace discrimination and harassment. 

When Wisconsin enacted the WFEA in 1945, it prohibited discrimination in employment based on just 5 characteristics: race, creed, color, national origin, and ancestry. Today, that list stands at more than a dozen and applies to public and private employers with at least 1 employee, which makes its coverage broad. Notably, Congress would not catch up with a similar workplace discrimination ban until 1964 when it enacted Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VII, as originally enacted, prohibited employment discrimination and harassment on the basis of race, sex, color, religion, and national origin. Because Title VII does not apply to employers with fewer than 15 employees, the WFEA fills a gap in coverage that would otherwise exist.

At the federal level, it was not until 2020 when the U.S. Supreme Court held that Title VII also covered sexual orientation as a protected class. This put Wisconsin 38 years ahead of the federal government. It may be difficult for some to imagine a time when an individual could lawfully be refused employment, terminated, or harassed due to that individual’s sexual orientation. This June, Wisconsin should take pride in its historically progressive stance on eradicating discrimination while recognizing the work that remains to be done. 

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