How often is employment discrimination mediated instead of handled in court?

Dear Ms. Allison: Our company is involved in an employment discrimination lawsuit – hiring practices. I wonder whether mediation would really resolve things faster and at less cost. How often is mediation successful in these issues, rather than having the force of a court order to force the issue? CR in North Texas

Dear CR:

Employment discrimination cases are relatively common. In 2020, 67, 448 employment discrimination charges were filed with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The filings included accusations of discrimination or ill treatment due to race, sex, national origin, religion, color, retaliation, age, disability, equal pay, genetics (GINA), et. al. That was fewer filings than 2019’s 72,675 – perhaps partially attributable to the many people working from home, hiring freezes, and downsizings during the COVID-19 pandemic.

As long as businesses use people as their workforce, disputes will remain unavoidable. Most businesses can’t create a “people-free” situation to assure there’s no need ever to worry. Still, there are steps they can take to limit their exposure to discrimination lawsuits. First among those is establishing policies and procedures for interactions with employees and other businesses, training staff constantly on them, and enforcing them consistently.

Mediation of employment issues is a much less confrontational resolution than a lawsuit. Many companies have internal structures that may become antagonistic, like collective bargaining and grievance procedures. Mediation promotes a friendlier, share-the-solution approach. It is private, enforceable, and has the added benefit of having involved all the parties in the solution. Because of that, mediated settlements are much more likely to be honored by the parties involved, but in any event as long as the agreement is structured as a contract it is absolutely enforceable.

When a settlement is reached during mediation, the mediator or one of the parties (or their attorneys) draft a document of the settlement terms and any conditions. Once everyone has a chance to review it and any changes are made, all parties sign it, attesting to their agreement to abide by its terms. The best practice is for the agreement to be created before the mediation is adjourned or certainly within 24 hours after the adjournment. If administrative action, arbitration, or litigation is pending, the settlement allows for the dismissal of the case. As far as enforcement goes, the written agreement has the status of a legal contract.

If I can assist you with mediation of an employment issue in your company, do contact me.

That’s your question, Asked and Answered, Gale Allison, Mediator

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