The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

I. Introduction

Consider the following headlines from recent articles: "The National Association of Securities Dealers, Inc. (NASD) Launched a New Dispute Resolution Subsidiary;"<1> "Stay out of Court - Attorneys Surveyed Recommend Mediation,"<2> "Qualcomm, Unhappy Employees Try Mediation,"<3> and "Judge Orders Mediation in Lawsuit Over Joint Venture."<4> Clearly, more and more employers and employees are becoming concerned that settling disputes in a courtroom is a lengthy, time-consuming, costly, and often-frustrating process that results in a win-lose outcome. They are actively looking for alternative dispute resolution (ADR) techniques. The unionized sector of the economy for decades has used such techniques to resolve labor-management disputes. Now, diverse organizations across the United States of America (USA) have become receptive to ADR, and to mediation in particular.

Mediation is a dispute resolution process in which a neutral third party, who has no final decision-making authority, assists disputing parties in developing options for an acceptable resolution of the dispute.<5> A central feature of a successful mediation is the interaction among the concerned parties and the mediator to arrive at a voluntary, mutually acceptable resolution. This can mean, the parties, with the help of the mediator, engage in "give and take" resulting in a compromise or, with the mediator's assistance expand the possibilities for resolution. In other words, mediation is a facilitated negotiation. Thus, mediation differs from other ADR processes and from litigation in significant ways, including, but not limited to: (1) the parties maintain control over the outcome if a settlement is reached; (2) in compromise situations, there is a diminished sense of win-lose.<6> Furthermore, if the parties do not agree in mediation, then they have the option of submitting their case for administrative and/or legal consideration.<7>

The largest workplace mediation program is the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's (EEOC) voluntary mediation program, a detailed description of which is presented in Section IV of this report. For example, during the first twelve months of the expanded mediation program (4/1/99 through 3/31/00), the EEOC conducted over 11,700 mediations and more than 7,500 charges were resolved through the program. Is the program viable? How is it perceived by the participants? Acceptability of the dispute resolution system has been described as one of the "ultimate tests" of the system's viability.<8> The purpose of this report is to present the results of a comprehensive survey of the participants (charging parties and respondents) in the EEOC mediation program regarding their experience with and opinions of the program. More specifically, this report presents the analysis of the participants' opinions regarding the procedural elements of the mediation, the performance of the mediator, the fairness of the mediation, and participant satisfaction with the results of the mediation.

Researchers have examined the acceptability of dispute resolution programs on a limited basis. For example, Kochan, Lautsch, and Bendersky have examined the performance of the mediation program of the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD). Similarly, McEwen has examined the EEOC's pilot mediation program that was the precursor to the current EEOC mediation program studied here. Our study is the most comprehensive evaluation of the largest mediation program seeking to resolve employment law disputes - the EEOC's mediation program.

This report is organized into several sections. After the introductory section, a brief review of the literature in the field is presented. The third section introduces our research and its premises. The fourth section gives a brief background of the EEOC, its strategies under different administrations, and its mediation program. The fifth section presents the research methodology of our study. The sixth section details the results and analyses of the study. The seventh section compares the results of our study with those of other studies that have evaluated the effectiveness of mediation programs. The report concludes with the discussion section, which focuses on the implications of the results.

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