The EEOC Set to Release Two Reports Comparing Online and In-Person Mediation

By Mylene Chan

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, a federal agency which enforces federal workplace anti-discrimination laws, will release Tuesday two reports on the transition to video mediation from traditional in-person sessions during the course of the pandemic.

The reports’ striking positive view of online ADR points to continued use, post-pandemic.

The EEOC had conducted about 10,000 mediations annually in the past decade–in-person until mid-March 2022, when it transitioned to online dispute resolution due to the Covid-19 outbreak. See “EEOC Mediation Statistics FY 1999 through FY 2020,” at https://bit.ly/38VirmT.

In September 2020, the EEOC commissioned researcher E. Patrick McDermott, a professor of management and legal studies of Franklin P. Perdue School of Business at Salisbury University in Salisbury, Md., with Ruth Obar, a program evaluation scholar based in Manila, Philippines, to conduct an online dispute resolution survey to measure the performance of online mediation against in-person processes.

This survey used the same performance measures employed in previous surveys by the EEOC since 2000 annually to measure participant satisfaction with in-person mediation.

“Our two independent studies of the mediator and participants’ experience in online mediation,  which includes party representatives, leave no doubt that we are seeing the rise of a new and improved model of workplace discrimination mediation,” said McDermott. He added, “Without a playbook, the EEOC mediation program National Coordinator, Stephen Ichniowski,  the District Office ADR Program Managers, and the many program mediators transitioned successfully from in-person to online mediation.  This program’s success and the data should be considered in future dispute resolution design in the courts, administrative agencies, and private models.”

The new releases covering the two studies, “Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Mediators’ Perception of Remote Mediation and Comparisons to In-Person Mediation” and “The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Mediation Participants Experience in Online Mediation and Comparison to In-Person Mediation,” are expected to be released here Tuesday morning. [UPDATE: The studies were released Wednesday, June 1, and can be accessed directly here.] They indicate that most of the survey participants prefer online mediation over in-person mediation, and that they believe procedural fairness, distributive justice, and access to justice are greater in online mediation. 

Here are the key findings:

  • 92% of charging parties and 98% of employers would conduct EEOC online mediation again.
  • 86% of charging parties and 94% of employers believe that EEOC’s online mediation procedures are fair.
  • 82% of charging parties and 91% of employers regard the overall online mediation as fair.
  • 60% of charging parties and 72% of employers are satisfied with the outcome of the online mediation, a rate higher than the same measure taken for in-person mediation previously. 
  • Nearly 70% of the participants prefer online mediation to in-person mediation.
  • Online mediation affords significantly greater access to justice because employers are more willing to participate in a mediation done online.
  • Employers report higher satisfaction across procedural and due process measures in online mediation.

The EEOC’s results echo and confirm the views of many practitioners who find Zoom mediation to be a successful model. 

John M. Noble, a Greensburg, Pa., mediator who reports he had 267 2021 mediations, shared his positive experience with Zoom:

Having conducted 564 remote sessions in the first 26 months of this Covid era, the mid-2020 notion that in-person ADR is still “better” than Zoom is now near non-existent. The non-travel benefits alone have proven life-altering: when the session is over, you are home or in the office; no more hotels or trains, planes and automobiles; no weather/dangerous highway issues; plaintiffs are expressly more comfortable in their own homes; defense representatives markedly increase efficiencies–at no added costs–participating from their home or office work-stations, given the routine in-person session down-time.

The participants and shared documents are “closer” to me on screen than in-person and I hear better with the head-set. Remarkably, while five of the eight insisted-upon in-person sessions I reluctantly conducted in 2020-22 did not settle (two of the cases saw no offers!), I have seen record numbers of settlement dollars accepted remotely­-over $450 million and counting. Frankly, my location has become irrelevant as I now Zoom with people from any time zone and I very thankfully no longer travel 12-20 hours a week. Beyond sold: . . . remote ADR is here to stay!

Colin Rule, chief executive officer of Resourceful Internet Solutions Inc., which owns mediate.com, commented,

Zoom has revolutionized the practice of mediation. Many mediators conducted their first online mediation via Zoom during the pandemic, and now they won’t go back.  Video conference mediation has become the new normal, with face-to-face processes the exception–a complete reversal from pre-2019. 

Zoom-based mediation helps parties be at their best; it allows for more flexible mediation processes (with more breaks), and it’s much greener (with fewer car miles and airline flights).  Parties prefer Zoom for mediation because of the cost and convenience, and studies are showing mediation over Zoom is equally as effective as face-to-face mediations.  Zoom is constantly improving their platform, and video and audio quality are certain to get even better over the coming years.  Zoom may be the gateway to more technological innovations for mediation in the near future.

Other mediators see advantages and disadvantages of online mediation and will use it if needed . . . but do not prefer it.  See, e.g., Robert A. Creo, “The Post Pandemic Compromise: Hybrid Mediation!”, 39 Alternatives to the High Cost of Litigation 111 (July/August 2021)  (available at https://bit.ly/3wQaxmZ).  

The two EEOC reports confirm that online mediation is widely accepted by mediators and participants. Online mediation, which was initially deemed as a temporary fix, is likely to continue to become mainstream at the EEOC even after the pandemic recedes.

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The author is 2022 Founders’ Fellow of Mediators Beyond Borders International. She is a former CPR intern, and has written for and contributed to this CPR Speaks blog and CPR’s newsletter, Alternatives to the High Cost of Litigation.

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Biden Signs Resolution Restoring Pre-Trump EEOC Conciliation Rules

By Cai Phillips-Jones

On June 30, President Biden signed S.J. Res. 13, overturning a recent U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission rule change that briefly required the EEOC to share more information with employers during the EEOC conciliation process.

CPR Speaks previously discussed the rule reversion, which Congress passed along party lines, and which will bring back the previous higher level of discretion on information to be provided by defendant companies.

Conciliation is a mediation-like process which happens after evidence of discrimination is found by the EEOC. Proponents and opponents of the short-lived rule both argued that their rule preferences would increase efficient settlement of EEOC cases.

The standard emanates from Mach Mining v. EEOC, 575 U.S. 480 (2015) (available at https://bit.ly/2TmuMZg), in which the U.S. Supreme Court granted broad discretion to the EEOC to determine how to proceed with the conciliation process, including the amount of information shared with the parties.

But the Trump-era rule, which went into effect in February, tamped down on this discretion, requiring the EEOC to share factual findings of discrimination such as the identity of witnesses to the discrimination.

Biden’s remarks upon signing can be found here.

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The author, a J.D. student who will enter his third year this fall at Yeshiva University’s Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York, is a 2021 CPR Summer Intern.

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EEOC (and Congress) Rolls Back ADR Policy

By Cai Phillips-Jones

A new U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission rule affecting the agency’s conciliation process became effective Feb. 16, but was repealed via a Senate resolution last month. The May 19 Senate move signals “disapproval”; In order for the rule to be fully overturned, the House will have to vote on the joint resolution, and it must be signed into law by President Biden.

Passage is likely in House, where it awaits consideration. The conciliation process rule, devised under the Trump Administration, drew fire from Democrats because it required more information in early stages of discrimination complaints to be provided to employers, and critics said that could spark retaliations.  Republican supporters said the process supported settlements. See, e.g., Daniel Wiessner, “Senate votes to repeal EEOC settlement rule that ID’ed bias victims,” Reuters (May 19) (available at https://reut.rs/3wcIYCG).

Conciliation is a mediation-like process that aims to increase the speed at which EEOC complainants get relief. Conciliation is conducted by an EEOC investigator rather than a third-party mediator, and takes place after the agency has found evidence of discrimination.

The new rule required the EEOC to share the factual and legal basis of any findings of discrimination with employers about findings of discrimination during the conciliation process. The rule aims to increase the transparency of the conciliation process by providing the employer with more information about their potential liability.

The rule has been viewed as a rollback of the Supreme Court decision in Mach Mining v. EEOC, 575 U.S. 480 (2015) (available at https://bit.ly/2TmuMZg), which limited the amount of information employers received about EEOC discrimination findings.

The Senate vote to overturn the new conciliation rule is the latest example of EEOC rules changing since the Biden administration took office. In addition to this rule change, a conciliation pilot program was ended earlier than expected, in January. The pilot program made a small change to the existing EEOC program by mandating that settlement offers be shared with “appropriate levels of [EEOC] management” before being shared with the respondent.

In January, the EEOC also ended a mediation pilot program, which expanded the use of mediation to additional case types and during more phases of the EEOC administrative process. The mediation pilot program was announced on July 7, 2020, and was originally scheduled to run for six months, ending in January 2021. On Jan. 6, the pilot was extended until September, 2021. But the EEOC reversed course weeks later, and under new Biden Administration EEOC leadership, ended the program on Jan. 27.

In addition to expanding the availability of mediation, the pilot program also increased the use of video-conferencing mediation and electronic feedback from mediation participants. The video conferencing and electronic communication elements will be carried forward from the pilot program, as will the ability for parties to request a mediation at any point during the EEOC process.

It appears that the only major part of the pilot not being continued is the expansion of mediation to additional case types. EEOC cases are individually evaluated for referral to mediation. Some case types, however, including class and systemic charges, have historically been exempted from mediation referrals. During the pilot, these exemptions were suspended. The end of the pilot likely signifies a return to exempt status for these cases.

In the Jan. 27 press release terminating the previously extended pilot but noting the popularity and success of EEOC mediation, the new EEOC Chair, Charlotte A. Burrows, endorsed the continuing use of mediation and conciliation when appropriate. “I strongly support the prompt and voluntary resolution of discrimination charges whenever doing so is consistent with our mission,” she noted in a statement in the release, adding, “The Commission will continue to strengthen its conciliation and mediation programs in accordance with the overarching goal of preventing and remedying discrimination in the workplace.”

Burrows was critical of the pilot program’s implementation by predecessor chair Janet Dhillon. As an EEOC Commissioner last July, Burrows, noting that the program hurt the agency’s traditional enforcement role, said that Chair Dhillon “lacks authority to institute this sweeping change unilaterally, because it contradicts policy formally approved by a Commission vote.” See Paige Smith, “EEOC Alters Mediation Process Under New Temporary Program,” Bloomberg Law (July 7, 2020) (available here).

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The author, a J.D. student who will enter his third year this fall at Yeshiva University’s Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York, is a 2021 CPR Summer Intern.

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