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Friday, May 30, 2014

Management-Side Firm Whines Because EEOC Mediators Are Doing Their Jobs

The law firm Fox Rothschild, LLP has posted a series of blog posts where they complain bitterly about EEOC mediators. They claim the mediators are unfair because they have the nerve (the noive!) to tell employers that EEOC could enter a cause finding in their case. The whining began with a survey by Merrily Archer where she asked management-side folks who participated in EEOC mediations whether or not mediators mentioned "cause" findings as a possibility. She found that they did so in 73.7% of cases. In 70% of cases, mediators mentioned to employers that EEOC could possibly bring a suit against the employer if they found cause.

Other lawyers weighed in and said that EEOC mediations are no different from other employment mediations, in that mediators do mention possible "cause" findings and other worst-case scenarios when trying to bring about settlements. But Fox Rothschild is now claiming that EEOC mediators should not do what every other mediator does.

They make three arguments for why EEOC mediators should be banned from mentioning the dread but rare "cause" finding:

  1. Unlike Private Mediators (or Magistrate Judges), EEOC Mediators Represent a Federal Agency that Wields Broad Enforcement Authority and Prosecutorial Discretion
  2. Unlike Private Mediators (or even Magistrate Judges), EEOC Mediators Represent a Federal Agency that Measures Its "Efficacy" by Its Employer Collections
  3. Unlike Private Mediators (or even Magistrate Judges), MOST EEOC Mediators are Not Lawyers 
So let me get this straight. Other mediators mention worst-case scenarios and that's okay. But EEOC mediators should paint a rosy pro-employer picture because they work for EEOC? All this whining fails to mention that EEOC mediators do not communicate with the investigators. They aren't allowed to discuss what happened at mediation. They can't have any impact on the enforcement decision one way or the other. And as to "efficacy," I'm willing to be that what they measure are the number of settlements, not the amount. As to their not being lawyers, mediators aren't supposed to give legal advice or make legal pronouncements. They don't have to be lawyers. Many EEOC mediators were investigators and know better than anyone how the system works.

What is completely missing from all this management-side moaning and groaning is any input from the employee side about what EEOC mediators say when meeting with employees. Mediators are supposed to test both sides with strong questions and doomsday scenarios. EEOC mediators point out to my clients that they could lose their case, that most EEOC cases end up with an "unable to determine" finding (some have even said a "no-cause" finding, even though those no longer exist), that litigation is long and drawn-out and expensive, and that sometimes a losing employee could end up paying fees and costs to the employer. It's the lawyer's job, not the mediator's, to discuss how likely each of these scenarios is with the client and whether settlement is a viable option.

I'd also like to point out my pet peeve from the employee side with EEOC mediators: employers always get the best room. At least here in Miami, EEOC has large, comfy conference rooms with candy and water on the tables, sometimes coffee, where the mediation starts. In every single situation I've encountered, after the initial openings and discussions, when it breaks into caucus, the employee is moved to a different room. That room used to be a tiny and freezing room with a tiny table and no refreshments. Now that they've moved to a different building, employees and their counsel don't even get a table to work on. There's a tiny room with a sofa and some chairs and side tables, and no place to put a laptop or spread out case files.

Does this send a message to employers that they are in disfavor? I think not. I think it sends a terrible message to employees that they are second-class citizens in EEOC mediation, whether it's true or not. I think EEOC mediators should alternate between moving the employer and the employee to the tiny room so it's fair. In a couple of cases, I've insisted upon it and been met with resistance, shock and surprise that I dared shake the status quo.

I'm a huge fan of the EEOC mediation process and EEOC mediators. In Miami at least, they're some of the best mediators I've encountered. That doesn't mean I think they are biased in favor of employees. If they were, they couldn't settle cases. A good mediator tests and pushes both sides, and that's what EEOC mediators do. It would be a travesty if EEOC mediators bowed to management-side pressures by not testing and pushing employers by telling them the worst-case possibilities that maybe their lawyers don't want them to hear.

I challenge Fox Rothschild to survey employee-side firms to find out what worst-case scenarios EEOC mediators are sharing with employees. They won't do it, because it will completely repudiate their claim that EEOC mediators are somehow unfair to employers.

So quit your whining, Fox Rothschild, and enjoy your comfortable large conference room and refreshments while your opponent is stuffed into a tiny room down the hall.

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I appreciate your comments and general questions but this isn't the place to ask confidential legal questions. If you need an employee-side employment lawyer, try http://exchange.nela.org/findalawyer to locate one in your state.