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Employment – discrimination — issue preclusion

Wisconsin Supreme Court


Employment – discrimination — issue preclusion

An employee is not barred by the doctrine of issue preclusion from litigating before the ERD the timeliness of the filing of her federal discrimination charge with the EEOC.

“[A] contextual shift in the law does not necessarily mean that issue preclusion, as a matter of law, cannot apply. A categorical exception allowing parties to relitigate completed cases in light of future legal developments would weaken the goal of finality. But Ms. Aldrich did not wait for a change in the law and then attempt to relitigate a completed lawsuit. Rather, she brought her discrimination claim to the Wisconsin ERD immediately after the federal district court dismissed her federal EEOC claim as untimely. Ms. Aldrich evidently believed that the state system would still investigate the merits of her claim, and when her state claim was again attacked on the grounds of timeliness, she put forth a plausible interpretation of the Wis. Admin. Code § DWD 218.03(5), which, if adopted, would have meant her state complaint was filed timely.”

“Ms. Aldrich did not lie in wait for a change in the law and then rush to the Wisconsin ERD to have her case heard for a second time. In Ms. Aldrich’s mind, her case had never ended. She was navigating the complexities of having two available forums, federal and state, and attempting to have her state claims heard on the merits. Under these circumstances, we decline to allow a federal district court’s interpretation of federal law, subsequently rejected by the United States Supreme Court, to deny a Wisconsin employee the right to pursue her claims under the Wisconsin Fair Employment Act.”

Reversed and Remanded.

2010AP1785 Aldrich v. LIRC

Abrahamson, C.J.

Attorneys: For Appellant: Jones, Amy Schmidt, Milwaukee; Nigh, Steven A., Milwaukee; For Respondent: Reinhardt, Peter M., Menomonie; Finke, Bridget M., Menomonie

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