Cari M. Dominguez, Chair of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), announced the implementation of a voluntary mediation pilot program in which private sector discrimination charges filed with the EEOC will be referred back to a participating employer’s internal dispute resolution program, as appropriate. Under the new “referral back” mediation pilot, which will be carried out at the district office level, employers that have internal dispute resolution programs that meet specific criteria may participate in the pilot.
“Many employer-provided dispute resolution programs have assisted in resolving claims promptly and amicably in-house, and have gained the confidence of the employer’s workforce,” said Chair Dominguez. “Such programs may also help to promote trust between the parties and thus preserve and strengthen employment relationships.”
The pilot was recently launched in Pennsylvania by the EEOC’s Philadelphia District Office with the participation of several regional Fortune 500 companies. Other agency field offices will gradually be phased into the pilot over the coming months.
Chair Dominguez added: “We are interested in exploring whether existing employer-provided dispute resolutions programs that operate fairly and voluntarily, afford employees appropriate and meaningful remedies, and do not seek to interfere with the Commission’s enforcement authority, can serve as an effective means of resolving employment discrimination charges filed with the EEOC.”
Under the EEOC pilot, an individual who has filed a discrimination charge against a participating employer may elect to have his or her charge held in suspense for a period not to exceed 60 days in order to provide the charging party and the employer an opportunity to resolve the dispute using the employer’s existing dispute resolution program.
If the dispute is resolved through the employer-provided program, the charge will be closed pursuant to the Commission’s procedures governing withdrawal and settlement of charges. If the dispute is not resolved, the Commission will recommence its processing of the charge.
In accordance with the provisions of the new pilot, the EEOC will refer charges back to those employer-provided internal ADR program mechanisms that meet the following criteria:
Chair Dominguez stressed that selection of an employer to participate in the pilot program does not constitute an endorsement or approval by the EEOC of an employer’s internal dispute resolution program. In selecting an employer for the pilot, the Commission is simply acknowledging that the employer’s internal program is the type of program that the EEOC is interested in evaluating, she said.
The expansion of voluntary mediation to resolve discrimination charges is the centerpiece of Chair Dominguez’s 5-Point Plan to improve the EEOC’s overall operational efficiency and effectiveness. The new “referral back” mediation pilot will serve as a supplement to the EEOC’s highly successful National Mediation Program, first implemented agency-wide in 1999. Under the National Mediation Program, EEOC has conducted more than 44,000 mediations, resolving over 29,000 charges and obtaining over $400 million in benefits for aggrieved individuals, all within an average processing time of 86 days. Moreover, a recent comprehensive study conducted by a independent consortium of college and university professors with ADR expertise found that over 91% of charging parties and 96% of employers that have participated in EEOC mediation would use the program again if they were a party to a future charge. Additional information about the EEOC’s National Mediation Program is available on the Commission’s web site at www.eeoc.gov (click on “Mediation”).
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