*** New Initiative Endorsed By Agency Stakeholders, Praised by Vice President Gore ***
WASHINGTON -- A new initiative launched today by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to significantly expand its voluntary mediation program won the endorsement of a broad range of agency stakeholders, including business and labor advocates, civil rights groups, and representatives of the employer and plaintiffs bar. The mediation initiative, also praised by Vice President Al Gore, was announced by EEOC Chairwoman Ida L. Castro during a kick-off event at Commission headquarters.
"Mediation can make a critical difference for everyone involved," Vice President Gore said in videotaped remarks at the kick-off program. "By resolving disputes faster and easier, we can focus on the truly bad actors -- and fight the worst cases of workplace discrimination with all the resources at our disposal."
"Voluntary mediation not only furthers EEOC's noble mission of eradicating employment discrimination, but also benefits employers and charging parties by resolving disputes quickly and to the satisfaction of both parties," Chairwoman Castro said during the kick-off program: Mediation: A National Call To Action, "It's fair, less costly and everybody wins!"
Explaining that "mediation will be a key element of our comprehensive enforcement strategy," Chairwoman Castro pointed out that the initiative stems from the call by the Clinton Administration and Congress for EEOC to expand its mediation efforts on a national scale. In proclaiming EEOC's "National Call To Action," Chairwoman Castro announced the following:
Mediation is a form of Alternative Dispute Resolution offered by EEOC early in the process to facilitate resolution without lengthy investigations or litigation. The decision to mediate is completely voluntary for the charging party and the employer, and the mediation process is strictly confidential at every stage. During a mediation session, a neutral third party facilitator helps the opposing sides to reach a negotiated resolution of workplace disputes. Unlike an arbitrator or judge, the mediator does not resolve the charge or impose a decision on the parties. Instead, the mediator helps the parties to agree on a mutually acceptable resolution that results in a win-win outcome for everyone involved.
The Commission plans to establish a nationwide mediation program in fiscal year 1999, utilizing up to $13 million in new budget funds requested by the President and authorized by Congress for that purpose. The amount is part of EEOC's overall FY 1999 budget of $279 million, a 15 percent or $37 million increase from the previous year. EEOC will use the new funds to hire mediation coordinators at every district office in the country, hire a core of internal and external mediators, and increase public education, training, and outreach on the mediation process.
In addition to the Vice President, the following panel of major stakeholders addressed mediation issues and shared their concerns with the Commission during an open roundtable discussion presided over by Ms. Castro: Michael Losey, President & CEO, Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM); Hilary Shelton, Director, NAACP - Washington Bureau; Rafael Medina, Staff Director and Labor Relations Counsel, McDonald's Corporation; Charles Warner, Co-Chair Elect, EEO Committee, American Bar Association; and Pamela Sumners, Employment Attorney, Plaintiffs Bar.
SHRM's Michael Losey remarked, "Mediation is a meeting of the minds to reach agreement and put workplace disputes behind us in the beginning, not when you reach the courthouse steps."
Ms. Castro emphasized that a crucial "firewall" has been built into the mediation process in order to separate it completely from EEOC's enforcement activities and to maintain confidentiality at all stages. "It is critical for the parties to understand that information from mediation sessions will never be used on the enforcement side," she said. "EEOC mediators are well-trained and impartial professionals."
While commending EEOC for expanding its mediation program, the panelists called on the Commission to: step up its education and outreach efforts to inform employers and charging parties about the benefits of mediation; form partnerships with business organizations and stakeholders at the local levels; increase training for agency mediators and internal staff; hire a diverse core of mediators to facilitate communications with racial and ethnic minorities who may experience language barriers; and to utilize mediators who ensure confidentiality, neutrality, and fairness for all parties.
In addition, Ms. Castro noted that EEOC has embarked on an aggressive effort at targeted outreach, public education, and joint partnership with stakeholders in general, and the employer community in particular (which was the focus of Commission Meetings in December 1998 and January 1999). "It is crucial that we educate and inform employers, particularly small and mid-sized businesses, about how mediation can bring swift and amicable resolutions to workplace problems," she said.
This page was last modified on February 11, 1999.
Return to Home Page