If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you are probably at least somewhat familiar with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. It is the federal agency tasked with enforcing the rights of the oppressed worker. We have covered dozens of lawsuits, filed by the EEOC, on behalf of a worker who is the victim of harassment or discrimination, such as the United Road Towing case from a couple of weeks ago.
But the EEOC isn’t just a pack of litigious Rottweilers with blood dripping from their fangs. There is a division of the EEOC that is more like a bunch of happy kittens. It consists of the kinder, gentler, enforcers. They are the mediators.
The EEOC’s mediation program attempts to settle disputes between employers and employees before the litigation process ensues. This form of alternative dispute resolution ensures less cost to both parties and often means the case is resolved faster.
In the mediation pact program, a large employer agrees with the EEOC to automatically handle all employment related disputes through EEOC mediation. The Family Dollar Store, which maintains multiple locations in the Chicago area, just agreed to such a pact this week.
Now, if an employee has a complaint about overtime pay, sexual harassment, or being denied a promotion due to race, it is immediately subject to an investigation and mediation process by the EEOC before the lawyers get involved.
Does this mean that you can’t sue if the EEOC gets involved?
No, not at all. It simply means that you have to go through the motions with the EEOC before suing. You can also waive the mediation process entirely and skip ahead to the dirty litigation process.
However, the big benefit of the EEOC’s involvement is the fact-finding portion of the mediation process. If the EEOC feels that your case has merit, and the mediation process fails, it might just file the case on your behalf. That means your claim will cost your less, plus you have an entire government agency fighting for you.
One potential issue for employers is the possible conflict of interest. Once an employer signs these mediation agreements, it is subject to EEOC mediation. Then, if mediation fails, the EEOC can still sue after serving as a mediator earlier in the case. The potential for conflicts seems obvious.
In other contexts, such as family law mediation, the mediator is not allowed to later represent one of the parties unless both parties waive the conflict. The reason for such protections is because the mediator, as a neutral party, supposedly has the trust of both parties. The parties are not going to give mediation a fair shake if there is a possibility that the mediator will later turn against them and sue on the other side’s behalf.
- Consult a Chicago Employment Law Attorney (FindLaw)
- EEOC’s Charge Processing Procedures (FindLaw’s Learn About the Law)
- Filing an EEOC Complaint or Charge (FindLaw’s Learn About the Law)
- What to Expect: An EEOC Cause of Action Chronology (FindLaw’s Learn About the Law)