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Menards ordered to pay former attorney $600,000

A judge in Eau Claire County Court has awarded Dawn Sands, the former general counsel for Menards’ home improvement chain, $600,000 in lost wages and benefits, according to an article in the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

The wrongful termination case, which started in 2006 and ultimately reached the Wisconsin State Supreme Court, revolved around charges of gender discrimination. Sands, who started working in Menards’ legal department in 1999, claimed that she made less money than her male counterparts. It was her requests for a raise that got her fired in 2006, she said.

Sands and company founder John Menard entered binding arbitration, and one year later, the arbitration panel awarded her $1.77 million, including $900,000 in punitive damages, and ordered Menard to reinstate her at an initial salary of $166,250. 

Menard wrote Sands a check for the entire arbitration award amount but refused to rehire her and appealed the arbitration panel’s decision to the Wisconsin Court of Appeals. Although neither Sands nor Menard wanted her back working in the company’s Eau Claire, Wis., offices, the appellate judges decided not to award “front pay” (roughly two years salary)  in lieu of reinstatement. Otherwise, the appeals court upheld the arbitration panel’s findings.

Menard petitioned the state Supreme Court for review. The high court said the arbitration panel exceeded its authority and applied the wrong remedy to Sands' situation and ordered the case be returned to the initial county judge to determine how much Menard should pay Sands for the future salary she would have received had she not been fired.