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An Evaluation of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Mediation Program

by Anita Jose, Patrick McDermott, Ruth Obar, & Mollie Bowers
The largest workplace mediation program is the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's (EEOC) voluntary mediation program. 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.

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.

Conclusions and Impications

The participant evaluation of the EEOC mediation program shows a high degree of participant satisfaction with the EEOC mediation program and its elements. Both the participant groups—charging parties and respondents—gave high marks to the various elements of the EEOC mediation program. The conclusions of this research and their implications are the following:

The participants expressed strong satisfaction with the information they received about mediation from the EEOC prior to their attendance at the mediation session. They also felt very strongly that they understood the process after the mediator's introduction of the process. One of the EEOC goals of mediation is to provide adequate information about mediation to the parties. The results show that the EEOC was very successful in fulfilling this goal. As the results indicate, "knowing participation," an essential element of procedural justice, was present in the EEOC mediation process.

The vast majority of the participants agreed that their mediation was scheduled promptly. Prompt scheduling is important for two reasons: (1) it is an indicator of effective program management, and (2) the likelihood of a settlement increases if mediation takes place promptly before the parties hardened their positions. The EEOC's prompt scheduling of mediation sessions is indicative of effective program management. It also increases the chances of dispute resolution.

An overwhelming majority of the participants felt that they had a full opportunity to present their views during mediation. This "voice factor" is important for three closely related reasons. First, it provides the parties with the satisfaction that their story is heard. Research on grievance systems indicates that one of the main opportunities that participants seek is a forum to present their views. Second, it is crucial to the fairness of the process, as indicated by the theory of procedural justice. Third, it increases people's acceptance of the outcome, thereby contributing to their overall satisfaction with the outcome.

The participants were very satisfied with the role and conduct of the mediators. They felt strongly that the mediators understood their needs, helped to clarify their needs, and assisted them to develop options for resolving the charge. They felt even more strongly that the procedures used by the mediators were fair. The questions regarding the neutrality of the mediators elicited some of the strongest responses from the participants, who felt that the mediators were neutral not only in the beginning of the process, but also remained neutral throughout the process. This finding is significant for two reasons. First, the perceived neutrality of the mediator is important to foster trust between the parties and the mediator, which is essential for the resolution of the charge and for the participant satisfaction with the process. Second, one of the EEOC goals of mediation is neutrality. As the participant responses indicate, the EEOC was successful in achieving this goal.

Participant satisfaction with the distributive elements of mediation was more tempered than their satisfaction with the procedural elements. This is indicative of the fact that mediation is a facilitated negotiation process where parties do not usually obtain what they wanted going into the negotiations. This result is also consistent with the dispute resolution literature on distributive justice. Among the distributive elements, the participants were most satisfied with the fairness of the mediation session. They also agreed that most of the options developed during mediation were realistic solutions to resolving the charge. The majority of the participants were also satisfied with the results of mediation.

Participant satisfaction with the EEOC mediation program remained high even when the participant responses differed, at times, based on the statutory basis of the charge (Title VII, ADEA, and ADA), the basis of the charge filed (religion, gender, race, national origin, disability, and age), the issue at mediation (discharge, terms and conditions of employment, harassment, sexual harassment, promotion, wages, discipline, and reasonable accommodation), whether a party to mediation was represented, the size of the company, the type of mediator, the status of the mediation, and satisfaction with the result. Our overall results indicated that the EEOC participant feedback reported here was fairly consistent, regardless of the influence of the various factors discussed above. The only obvious exception was based on "participant satisfaction with the mediation result." As one would expect, participants who were satisfied with the result of their mediation gave higher ratings to their mediation experiences than those who were not satisfied. However, it should be noted that even in this case, the results indicate that the participants who were not satisfied with the result of mediation expressed positive opinions regarding the various procedural elements of mediation.

An overwhelming majority of the participants indicated that they would be willing to participate in the mediation program again if they were a party to an EEOC charge. Participants, regardless of their satisfaction with the outcome of mediation, overwhelmingly indicated their willingness to return to mediation. This is a strong indication of their satisfaction with the EEOC mediation program. This finding also indicates that participants were able to differentiate between the procedural and distributive elements of mediation. The fact that willingness to return was high, even among participants who did not receive what they wanted, indicates that a fair and neutral process that provides participants with an opportunity to present their views may be even more important than the obtained outcome. This finding is consistent with the results of other empirical studies of procedural justice.

Overall, participant feedback regarding the EEOC mediation program indicates that the program is, by any measure, clearly acceptable to the charging parties and respondents who participated in it.

The full text of the report "An Evaluation of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Mediation Program" is available on the EEOC's web site.

Biography



Dr. Mollie Bowers, Merrick School of Business University of Baltimore, helped survey participants of the EEOC mediation program regarding their opinions of the performance of the program.


Dr. Anita Jose, Hood College, helped survey participants of the EEOC mediation program regarding their opinions of the performance of the program.

She is an associate professor of management, and the Director of the MBA Program at Hood College. Her research interests include organizational strategy, international management, and business ethics/corporate social responsibility. Her articles have appeared in such publications as the Journal of Business Ethics, Southern Law Journal, Business Intelligence, and Advances in Industrial Relations Research. She is a member of several professional associations and regularly presents research papers at national and international management conferences. She is a research fellow at the Center for Conflict Resolution.  She has consulted with organizations such as the California Department of Fair Housing and Employment. She received her doctorate from the University of North Texas and her MBA and MMGT from the University of Dallas.


Dr. E. Patrick McDermott - Franklin P. Perdue School of Business, The Center For Conflict Management, Salisbury State University -was the Primary Researcher  that surveyed the participants of the EEOC mediation program regarding their opinions of the performance of the program.


Dr. Ruth Obar, Hood College, helped survey participants of the EEOC mediation program regarding their opinions of the performance of the program.

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