I love serving as a mediator for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. It allows me to assist people in dispute who are willing to share their pain about wrongs that have occurred to them that have impacted them greatly.
No one deserves to be discriminated against in the workplace based on their religion, their race, their gender, their national origin, their disability, or their age. For that matter, no one should ever feel less than or isolated in the workplace.
Similarly, no one deserves to be falsely labelled a racist or a bigot. That is an accusation that, by itself, with no evidence whatsoever, can have lasting negative impact.
Helping these cases to settle brings great satisfaction because the parties can end what could otherwise be a long drawn out and excruciating process: emotionally, physically, financially. People can move on with the more important and positive endeavors in their lives without the humongous burden of a lawsuit and all that it entails weighing them down.
As a mediator, however, my hope in entering these sorts of cases is always that we can address the underlying problem, get back to that moment when things started to off the tracks and stories began to diverge about what actually happened.
Alas, once a matter gets to an EEOC mediation table, assisted by lawyers and the element of time, the different stories have a way of becoming entrenched and the my job has little to do with reconciliation or empathy building and everything to do about settling on a dollar figure.
Every once in a while, there is opportunity for the parties to open up the original narrative or to honestly share the emotional impact with one another or indirectly through me.
Rarely, though, is reconciliation possible. Too much time has passed. The parties have already separated. The legal process has taken hold.
This is a result of many factors and no one is individually to blame. That said, shouldn’t organizational leaders direct their money to prevention rather than mitigation? What becomes a harassment or discrimination claim which costs thousands of dollars to defend starts out many times as an interpersonal conflict that can be stopped, or cured, with hundreds of dollars of preventative and early intervention work.