In February 2002, the ACLU and NAACP filed a lawsuit against the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, alleging racial discrimination in the application of sanctions against participants in the Wisconsin Works (W-2) program. 

W-2 is a welfare-to-work program that offers cash assistance to low-income Wisconsinites provided they are either working, looking for work, or taking part in job training. Participants in the program can be sanctioned and lose part or all of their benefits if they fail to meet certain conditions. 

Federal law forbids government agencies from discriminating on the basis of race in the provision of public benefits. But we found that people of color enrolled in W-2 faced more drastically more severe and more frequent sanctions than white beneficiaries. 

A study at the that time by the Institute for Wisconsin’s Future reported that 42 percent of Black and 45 percent of Hispanic W-2 participants were sanctioned, in contrast to 24 percent of white participants.5 A report prepared by the Wisconsin Legislative Audit Bureau (LAB) found that the sanction rate for Black W-2 participants was twice the rate for white participants (47 percent vs. 23 percent).