Drawing Benefits of Mediation

By Potts, Gregory | THE JOURNAL RECORD, March 2, 1999 | Go to article overview

Drawing Benefits of Mediation


Potts, Gregory, THE JOURNAL RECORD


The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has launched a mediation program proponents say will reduce agency expenses and limit the emotional strain experienced by both sides in court cases.

The program was mandated by Congress last year, which approved $13 million to support alternative dispute resolutions between accusers and their employers.

While $13 million may seem like a lot of money to some, it represents the possibility of huge cost savings, says Carla Vogel, supervising attorney of the ADR Unit in the EEOC's Dallas office. By encouraging employers and workers to settle, the agency expects to save on investigation expenses. In addition, businesses will save on attorney's fees, and it can ease the burdens employment cases place on the court system. The district, which includes Oklahoma and north Texas, had 5,000 EEOC charges last year. The more of these cases that can be settled without going through a full investigation and litigation process, the better. "There are some other savings," adds Joyce Davis Powers, the agency's Oklahoma City area director. "When you talk about human resources and employee morale, certainly the quicker you resolve disputes, the better. Especially if that employee is returning back to the employment workplace, you certainly don't want a dispute to go on for a lengthier period of time than necessary instead of intervening into mediation and settling the dispute early. It encourages morale in the workplace and it also shortens that period of time when you may have a dispute that actually interrupts whatever the workflow is in that office." Lawsuits can be so emotionally draining, even the winner may not feel much of a sense of victory. "You're deposed," points out Vogel. "You're friends are deposed. Your co-workers are deposed. "In promotion cases, you spend time trying to cut down the person that got the job, show that your person is better when I'm not always so sure that that person is such a horrible person. They just happened to get the job." And the resolutions mandated by judges and juries may not always be as satisfactory as what the parties themselves could come up with in mediation. "It's sometimes hard to go through a trial and have a judge or a jury craft a workplace decision about what needs to be done to correct something," says Vogel. "These kinds of cases are great for mediation in that it lets the employer and the employee work out what's for the best. It's kind of hard to interject yourself into a company culture and say, `You should do this, this and this.'" Despite mediation's advantages, not all mediation attempts succeed and not all cases will go through mediation in the first place. For one thing, both parties have to volunteer to try a mediation. "For the whole mediation philosophy to work, both parties need to be there voluntarily," says Powers. …

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